“The Copyright Act is very clear,” said Gluck. “Any original work of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression is entitled to copyright protection. Period.”
To be sure, many companies and nonprofits—from Domino’s Pizza
—have also had success commissioning murals and campaigns from graffiti artists. So what can companies do to avoid lawsuits with artists, and the P.R. backlashes that often follow?
“Learn the artist’s market before you call them to do a graphic for $500,” said Roger Gastman, a graffiti historian and one of the curators of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art
’s landmark 2011 exhibition, “Art in the Streets.” “If an artist sells a print for $500 each, and they have an edition of 100 that they release, [which] then sells out in 30 minutes, they’re not going to do a graphic for you for $500—the math doesn’t work,” Gastman said. “Think about how long it takes someone to create, think about their overhead, think about what their market value is, and then think about respecting their time.”
Until such practices become the industry norm, the surest way to stop companies from infringing—and to enforce copyright protection, if necessary—may simply be for artists to prominently sign their murals, and (as uncool as it may seem) register
them with the U.S. Copyright Office.
“Graffiti artists should challenge copyright infringers in court in order to create precedent to protect other artists,” Amineddoleh said. “Graffiti artists should also register their copyrights, place notice on their works (with the ‘©’ symbol), and actively monitor the market for anyone infringing.”