Whitewashing graffiti can be expensive
On November 7, 2017, a three-week trial ended over whether the destruction of graffiti artworks on the 5 Pointz warehouse in Queen violated the artists' / plaintiffs' rights under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 ("VARA"), 17 U.S.C. § 106A. The jury found the defendants guilty.
On Monday, February 12, 2018, the other shoe dropped. The District Court for the Eastern District of New York ordered the developer to pay $6.75 million in damages to 21 artists for the destruction of 45 works of art. The damages were calculated at $150,000 (or the maximum statutory damages award) per each of the 45 works. 17 U.S.C. § 504(c)(2).
Fortunately, most building owners will not have to worry about whitewashing or destroying graffiti because the key element a VARA claim is that the graffiti be "a work of recognized stature". 17 U.S.C. § 106A(a)(3)(B).