As an artist, you have the sole right to reproduce and distribute any work that you have copyrighted. You may also transfer your ownership/authorship rights to whomever you would like. Although a copyright is the best way to establish and secure your rights as your work’s creator, there are certain state and federal laws that extend protection to work that is not copyrighted. These are designed to protect the integrity and reputations of people who create works of art.

Protection Under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) of 1990:

VARA was enacted in 1990 to protect people who create works of visual art.  It protects an artist’s right to claim authorship of a piece and to remove their name from any piece that has been distorted or altered without their permission. VARA further protects an artist’s right to prevent the destruction of her artwork.  

VARA does not limit its protection to "fine art," as some state laws do, but it does require that a work of art be "of recognized stature" in order to be protected. VARA’s definition of visual art is rather narrow, and does not extend to certain types of graphic art, audiovisual or motion picture art, magazines, or electronic art. Your state may or may not have provisions that do extend to protect these forms of artwork. 

State Protective Acts:

If your state has enacted legislature to protect and preserve works of art, you may be best off seeking protection for your work under the state law than under VARA. States’ provisions generally provide protection for more varied forms of art. California and New York, for example, afford protection for a much wider array of artwork, extending their definition of artwork to include visual works of any media.  

What Remedies are Available to Me if Someone Violates My Rights as an Artist?

If you are successful in a lawsuit against someone who has violated your rights as an artist, you may be entitled to receive the following:

  • Injunctive relief
  • Actual damages (any money you lost as a result of the infringement upon your rights)
  • Punitive damages (money awarded if the person who violated your rights acted maliciously)
  • Reasonable attorney/expert witness fees
  • Any other relief that the court feels is appropriate

Should I Contact an Attorney to Protect My Artwork?

If you believe someone has infringed upon your rights as an artist, an experienced intellectual property attorney can help you preserve your rights and seek the legal remedies available to you.