“[B]y passing general laws to protect all works, Congress better fulfills its designated ends than it would by denying protection to all books the contents of which were open to real or imagined objection. . . . Judging by this standard, it is obvious that although Congress could require that each copyrighted work be shown to promote the useful arts (as it has with patents), it need not do so.”The Supreme Court has expressed a similar view in recent cases, stating that the Copyright Clause “empowers Congress to determine the intellectual property regimes that, overall, in that body’s judgment, will serve the ends of the Clause,” but not necessarily a system in which every element needs to serve the Clause’s goal. Furthermore, as a practical matter, it is somewhat counterintuitive to believe that protecting graffiti under copyright would cause more artists to paint illegally on walls. On the contrary, granting protection may result in their looking for more legal places to paint. Copyright protection could help artists build their reputations faster and switch to painting legally on walls more quickly. Legal acceptance of the art form would also encourage graffiti artists, otherwise excluded by society, to accept the possibility of creating their art by legal means and help them to view the law as an ally rather than an obstacle. Many professional graffiti artists start painting on walls legally as their careers grow and their work becomes more prestigious, probably because it is very hard to develop an artistic career through illegal graffiti only. Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Brazilian artists Os Gemeos, and many others switched to legal art when they gained renown, and realized the commercial potential of their work. Of course, this does not mean that all graffiti artists would switch to legally painting if graffiti were copyrightable, since many artists choose to paint illegally in order to convey a rebellious message. However, copyright would give graffiti artists greater incentive to paint legally. Copyright is especially valuable for artists with growing reputations, as copyright protection could help them advance their careers. Although obtaining copyright protection for graffiti artists’ work would benefit all graffiti artists, it would benefit some more than others. It seems that copyright would be less valuable, for example, to spray-paint graffiti artists who write messages intended solely for the graffiti community, or to artists who reject property rights in general and do not want to keep control over reproductions of their works. Conversely, copyright would be more valuable to artists who develop art for the broader community or who seek to commercialize their work. Even though some graffiti artists would be unmoved by copyright’s incentives, we should still grant copyright protection to graffiti. Under the United States copyright regime, authors receive copyright protection for their qualifying works, regardless what motivated the author to create; it is not necessary that every work serves the Copyright Clause’s goal, but rather that the overall system does.  As a consequence, the owner of a wall containing graffiti could sell the original art piece as part of the structure that contains it, or as a separate item. For example, the owners of a wall that had a Banksy piece affixed to it were able to sell their wall for $200,000. The owner of the wall may also destroy the painting or paint it over completely. The new owner of a building that contained one of Banksy’s works recently did so in the UK, and the same could have been done in the United States. Wall owners can also defend their property against third parties who try to destroy, paint over, or remove original works that have been fixed without permission, as happened recently with two Banksy murals, removed from a factory in Detroit and from a hotel in London.
2. Claims against Third Parties to Protect the Integrity of the Work and to Prevent Destruction of the WorkGraffiti artists could still enforce their VARA rights against third parties who have no rights in the physical property. By painting illegally on the city’s property, the plaintiffs in English did not forfeit their VARA rights. Instead, they simply could not enforce them against the city (the victim of their illegal paintings) due to the unclean hands doctrine. However, the doctrine of unclean hands would not apply towards unaffected third parties, because the artists did nothing wrong towards them. Thus, VARA rights should remain fully applicable against third parties. In other words, although VARA rights to the integrity of a work and against destruction would not be enforceable against the owner of the property, they could be enforced against everyone else, such as bystanders who paint over a work or destroy it, including José Carlos Martinat. However, in the context of graffiti, it is worth noting some factors that may prevent application of the VARA rights of integrity and against destruction to third parties. The right to integrity is shaped by the graffiti community’s codes of honor and reputation. Artists generally know that their work might be ephemeral and that someone else could paint the wall with other art or bring the wall back to its original state. Some artistic modifications of the work are foreseen and expected by graffiti artists, and as such, might not implicate the artist’s right of integrity. The rules of the graffiti community can help us evaluate whether a modification affects the honor and reputation of the artist or not. For example, if an artist responds to overlapping graffiti on his work with a new graffiti (she does not just restore the original work, but she creates a new work in response to the intervention), then its reasonable to think that there is an artistic dialogue and that the modification of the work does not “prejudice the author’s honor or reputation,” because modifications are understood to be an element of graffiti art. The VARA right against destruction of a work, may be difficult for graffiti artists to use, as it only applies to works of “recognized stature.” It may be difficult for many graffiti works to qualify for this status. Courts have interpreted the recognized stature requirement as a two-tiered standard, which demands: “(1) that the visual art in question has ‘stature’ i.e. is viewed as meritorious, and (2) that this stature is ‘recognized’ by art experts, other members of the artistic community, or by some cross-section of society.” In graffiti art, this requirement was met in one case where the work was “a community work that exhibits the concerns of the community.” The accepted work was a mural containing anti-drug, anti-alcohol and anti-smoking messages. However, it is uncertain that the requirement would be met with regular street art that has no communitarian educational message in particular, or that was created by less than well-known artists. Some pieces by well-known graffiti artists would probably fulfill the recognized stature requirement without any communitarian or educational message because art experts, other members of the artistic community, and society as a whole recognize their stature. However, works by less-famous artists may have more difficulty meeting the recognized stature standard. This uncertainty is of real concern to artists who must embark on extensive legal research before litigation.  Protecting graffiti, moreover, may have the consequence of incentivizing graffiti artists to create more legal works. I have also explored the challenges that artists face when enforcing rights over their graffiti, both under the Copyright Act and VARA. Graffiti has a unique position in relation to copyright’s nature and scope. While “many people are too quick to view street art through the lens of vandalism,” copyright law cannot simply dismiss graffiti works. Graffiti works must be treated on equal footing with other artistic works for the purposes of copyright law, without being discriminated against due to their illegality. Copyright protection is valuable to all graffiti artists since it gives them the ability to assert artistic control over how their works are reproduced and shared. It may be true that copyright is for losers, as Banksy has expressed. But even if that is the case, graffiti artists should still have the option to be losers.
(1) a painting, drawing, print, or sculpture, existing in a single copy, in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author, or, in the case of a sculpture, in multiple cast, carved, or fabricated sculptures of 200 or fewer that are consecutively numbered by the author and bear the signature or other identifying mark of the author; or (2) a still photographic image produced for exhibition purposes only, existing in a single copy that is signed by the author, or in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author.A work of visual art does not include–
(i) any poster, map, globe, chart, technical drawing, diagram, model, applied art, motion picture or other audiovisual work, book, magazine, newspaper, periodical, data base, electronic information service, electronic publication, or similar publication;
(ii) any merchandising item or advertising, promotional, descriptive, covering, or packaging material or container;
(iii) any portion or part of any item described in clause (i) or (ii);
(B) any work made for hire; or
(C) any work not subject to copyright protection under this title.