Generally, the creator of a work of art has the right to modify or destroy their work however they want. A person who is not the creator of a work of art can only alter or destroy the piece where they have received a written waiver signed by the artist.
However, where an artist has created a piece of artwork on a structure belonging to someone else, such as mural, there may be a conflict of interests that arises between the building owner and the artist.
When Artwork Can Be Removed from the Building
If the owner of a building wishes to remove a piece of artwork from his or her building and can do so without substantially altering or destroying it, he or she will generally be allowed to remove it. However, the building owner will have to give the artist 90 day notice so she may remove the piece or pay for its removal if she wishes. If the artist is no longer alive, the same notice will be given to the heir, beneficiary, or personal representative of the artist, so that she may retrieve the artwork and retain title to it.
When Artwork Cannot Be Removed from the Building
If the owner of a building wishes to remove a piece of artwork from the building, but can’t without damaging the artwork, the building owner will often be required to obtain a waiver from the artist. If the waiver cannot be obtained or is refused, the building owner may have to preserve the artwork for the remainder of the artist’s lifetime or for a period of up to 50 years after his/her death. This is because of the detrimental effect that the destruction of a piece of art might have on the artist and his or her reputation.
Should I Consult a Lawyer about My Artwork?
If you have created a piece of art that is in danger of being destroyed unlawfully, you should contact an intellectual property attorney. An intellectual property lawyer will be able to preserve your rights as well as represent you in court should a dispute arise over your work.