Does intellectual property law protect unsanctioned graffiti art? With the rising appreciation for street art, this is a question of growing importance in today’s art market. Graffiti is perhaps one of the fastest growing artistic movements. Street art embraces metropolitan walls and streets, gifting the public with innovative imagery that becomes a part of the city as much as the wall it rests on.

In its purest form, street art breaks boundaries and defies law. It is art typically made without consent and illegally created on either private or public property. While this form of artwork was once condemned as a social nuisance and even vandalism, graffiti work has become not only a respectable form of art in the past several years, but also a hot commodity among art collectors and connoisseurs. Communities are even beginning to embrace and value street art in their neighborhoods. Consequently, street art is often ripped from its creators, copied and reprinted on merchandise, and even exhibited and sold at auction and in galleries without the artist’s consent. As graffiti art becomes the next big art market, the question arises: Do street artists have intellectual property protection for unsanctioned artwork, and should they be able to prevent the unauthorized copying, removal, sale, and destruction of their work?

Published in Landslide, Volume 7, Number 5, ©2015 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

Read more: Street Art: The Everlasting Divide Between Graffiti Art and Intellectual Property Protection