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Watch Out For That Mural! - Public Art, Public Rights?


The rise of digital media, YouTube, Instagram, and other social media has altered the consumption of visual art. Street art, or art situated in public spaces, such as murals and statues are now widely used and distributed through these platforms. However, the public space is not the public domain. Hence, an unauthorized use of street art as the background for your vlog, for example, could infringe the intellectual property rights of the street artist.


Art in public spaces enjoys the same copyright protections other original works of authorship have. These rights include the right to reproduce the work, to prepare derivative works and to distribute copies of the work. Unless artists, influencers, filmmakers, or any content creator who uses a copyrighted work asks for permission from the artist or copyright owner, it is likely they cannot use a photograph, video, or any other tangible medium with the street art on display. In some instances (e.g., for academic and journalistic work) a defense of fair use may be available to the unauthorized use of the work. Here, courts interpreting copyright laws exempt unauthorized users from asking for permission from the artist or owner of the copyrighted work (but beware that you have to be sued first to present this defense!).


For most artists and content creators who are looking to attract consumers by adding a cool looking mural to the background of their music video, the right thing to do would be to contact the artist or copyright owner and ask for permission to use their work (and remember to put it in writing!).


Does this bring to mind any recent incidents?