Find the right lawyer now

Protecting My Artwork Lawyers

Find a Local Intellectual Property Lawyer near You

What Basic Rights Do I Have as an Artist?

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.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 06-26-2018 10:34 PM PDT

Law Library Disclaimer
  • No fee to present your case
  • Choose from lawyers in your area
  • A 100% confidential service
What is LegalMatch?

We've helped more than 4 million clients find the right lawyer – for free. Present your case online in minutes. LegalMatch matches you to pre-screened lawyers in your city or county based on the specifics of your case. Within 24 hours experienced local lawyers review it and evaluate if you have a solid case. If so, attorneys respond with an offer to represent you that includes a full attorney profile with details on their fee structure, background, and ratings by other LegalMatch users so you can decide if they're the right lawyer for you.