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Graffiti: Discussion of Copyright Infringement

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This article has been submitted by Greenaway Scott

Graffiti hasn’t always been a traditional topic of discussion in matters of copyright infringement.

However, as these original street artworks are growing in popularity and increasingly becoming incorporated into real estate design, the issue of who owns graffiti is now being debated.

Once dismissed as vandalism and a sign of decay that would have lowered a property’s value, graffiti is now considered an art form with land values in areas such as Shoreditch increasingly thanks to its appearance.

This added value has inevitably become particularly attractive to property developers. There is a growing interest in graffiti and street art, and rather than try to remove it, some developers are commissioning or incorporating it into their properties.

For example; a Banksy mural known as ‘The Painter’, which was first installed on a building in Portobello Road in 2008, is being moved from the ground floor of a luxury development in Notting Hill to the first floor, and will be protected by glass and illuminated at night by spotlights. The owners of the building, which will be known as Sartoria House, have been granted planning permission to turn it into high-end apartments and restaurants with the Banksy artwork forming the centrepiece of the development.

With this boost in popularity, an inevitable debate around ownership of the work has been sparked.

Despite these artworks being created in public spaces, there is still an element of original ownership by the artist.

This is highlighted in the case of McDonalds utilising a deceased artist’s work to decorate its restaurants and consequently facing a copyright infringement lawsuit from the artist’s family.

Despite growing conversation about this subject, it is likely that as this type of art becomes more widely used for decoration of real estate, we will see more cases examining this type of alleged copyright infringement.