Can you expect copyright for public art?

I read this this morning. In short, FIAT got sued by a group of artists because their graffiti was in one shot of a commercial.

I was quite surprised that FIAT made a settlement with the artists. Now copyright laws are different in different countries so we can’t debate the legal aspects here.

But do you think, in principle, an artist can expect copyright or royalty for public art? (Assume it was legal or even on his own property)

I personally agree with this poster on that website:

Sorry but you don’t get royalties on art work in the public eye. If this is true architec’s should get the same on buildings they design and how about landscapers or the guy holding his sign on the corner with a stick figure of God stomping on the head of a devil that says “be prepared the end is near” or the store owner for the sign he designed and put up? Litigation will end when lawyers are held accountable for stupidity.

Reproduction of artwork is one thing; taking a photo of a building is quite another. A lot also depends on how the reproduction is used.

If the Graffiti is illegal, then if they collect, they should be required to spend their earnings cleaning up the graffiti from the building…

The short answer is yes, to use that art, even if it’s in public, Chrysler should have expected to need a license. Usually street art is released in the public domain for various reasons but by no means is that the rule. The artists were fully entitled to their settlement and could have expected about the same from a court hearing. Copyright law in the US is very clear on that point.

I am unclear – was this legal graffiti?

If it wasn’t then this is the dumbest thing I have ever heard – instead of getting a settlement they should spend some time in the jail – if not – I am going to go spray paint my name on the grand canyon and charge royalties to anyone who dares take a photo

What do you mean with public art?

I see …wikipedia.

But public art is art in public space. It does not mean to be public domain. That means you as “public” can see it, but it is not yours ;).

copyright is usually not regarding making a picture, but publishing such pictures and claiming it as “your work” (incl. copyright).

So, if I have some graffiti on a building and Dream Works happens to have a shot that pans across the building I have the graffiti on, I am entitled to royalties?

I am not sure that is correct…

As in most polls in these forums, the question/options are very simplistic.
There are many types of public art, graphiti, sculpture, architecture, is it permanent fixture etc.
The type of reproduction can also vary.
In the UK for example a public sculpture can be reproduced in 2D form (photo, on TV, in film) without the copyright holders consent (with some requirements) but not in 3D form (such as reproductions) which to me sounds a pretty reasonable compromise bwetween the artist and the public viewer. The specific rules of course can vary from country to country.

It also depends on the country.

Copyright law is very complicated. However, I would not expect artists to receive royalties for work which they have placed in a public place. That’s ridiculous, unenforcable, and is against the spirit of the idea of copyright.

Personally I feel copyright (like patent law) has got out of hand and serves only corporates and those with deep pockets. 70 years, 90 years, 100+ years for copyright? No! It should be reduced to 25. And I say that as an author and creator.

Personally I feel copyright (like patent law) has got out of hand and serves only corporates and those with deep pockets. 70 years, 90 years, 100+ years for copyright? No! It should be reduced to 25. And I say that as an author and creator.

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Very well said!

There is very little Black & White regarding copyrights and copyright law. The more you know about it the more confusing it is and becomes. I’d like to see Copyright Laws rewritten and simplified, not to favor anyone, but so that they can be effectively used if need be.

They didn’t receive a royalty because their work was in public view. Someone else used their work in a money making scheme without permission, so they demanded a share of the profits.

If it was a legal commissioned work, then they were well within their rights, and the ad makers could have painted it out in post processing or covered it during filming.

I doubt if any company would get away with using ‘Guernica’ in an ad without permission, and the ‘Mona Lisa’ is in a public place.

Are you talking about the basic idea to protect intellectual property against commercial exploitation by a 3rd party if your work is “original” and “fixed in any tangible medium of expression now known or later developed from whitch the can be […] communitcated”?

For both, the USA and the majority of Europe those two factors count. Europe in particular has another requirement, the work has to be “a part of materialized personality of the originator”

In German it´s called “Urheberrecht” which I like more than Copyright, because “Urheber” is “the creator/originator” and “Recht” well is “right”
And the “Urheberrecht” is active for anything that fulfills the requirements, it does not have to be stated seperately, or in other words, the absence of a copyright notice does not make any work public domain.

While the legality of the graffiti might be up for discussion, it most likely fullfils the requirements for being copyrighted work. If the graffity now took a major role in the FIAT commercial and was used by them for commercial purposes, royalties are due.
And FIAT´s legal council surely isn´t filled with fools and counts beyond one lawyer, and that they came to an agreement with the graffiti artists pretty much proofs the right of the artists - else FIAT would have went to court and had stomped them groundlevel.

This way they pay off the sprayers, get nice publicity and don´t risk loosing the case.

Given that Fiat was preparing something for commercial purposes, “their Clearances division simply screwed-up.” These people are supposed to examine every frame of a prospective film to make damn sure that nothing that could possibly be copyrighted or trademarked appears anywhere, and that every recognizable person in a scene has a signed model-release on file.

The graffiti was obviously “a potentially copyrightable work.” It was clearly “on public exhibition.” Maybe you don’t know who put it there, but somebody out there knows that he or she did put it there, and if they can recognize it in your commercial they can (and probably will…) cause mischief for you. This doesn’t qualify as “fair use.”

So, the definitive answer to the question is, “Yes.” The law doesn’t care how you choose to exhibit “your” work and it doesn’t care if you charge money for it. It doesn’t care if you registered the work with the copyright office. Yes, you can put something up “for all the world to see” and “estop” its use in a commercial.

Fiat did the one and only thing they could have done: reach a binding settlement to dispose of the matter honorably and quietly, while paying the attorneys as little as possible.

graffiti is bad art. And it’s in open, public space. If they collect money, they should be taxed at the very least.

I’ve quikly read through a few of the replies here and you all seem to ignore a particular line:

The artists behind a copyrighted mural in the Bronx sued the automaker for using the image without their permission

In many situations you are allowed to use public art, even if it’s copyrighted. A copyright (in this situation)comes into play when someone else is using your copyrighted material in something to promote their own work. In this case that would be trying to sell the 500C.
I don’t know if the commercial’s director was informed of the copyright and I highly doubt that he/she did.

Now copyrighting art is already a very debatable subject and it is sometimes used to protect your work from being stolen by someone else. (believe me, it happens).

Now I’m not a fan of copyrighting but don’t you want to receive credit for what you do?
This case is just blown out of proportion IMO. But I still voted yes


There was no need to mention this. Copyright subsists in any and all work created by someone, unless that person has passed the copyright to someone else or has renounced copyright in the work. I don’t think those street artists did that.

As I have not seen the advertisment which is being discussed I don’t think I can comment further other than to say that when a work is used in a different medium then I think the right to use a work should not be as strict, something we enjoy in the UK w.r.t public sculpture and also demostrated in the recent case of George Lucas getting a bloody nose after taking the stormtrooper armour designer to court for making and selling copies derived from the designer’s original blueprints.

While I am fully supportive of the notion of copyright I feel it has now just become a corporate tool and, with the tit-for-tat between the US and Europe in upping the time length every few years (in the case of the US to satisfy Disney and make sure their stupid mouse never comes out of copyright), creating orphaned works for which no copyright holder can be traced. And to think some of these corporates want copyright to subsist forever - what an awful thought.

Indeed, on the latter I have a case myself - I’d like to republish a book with text and photographs created in 1898. I can’t because both the author and photographer both lived into their 90s and copyright won’t run out on this work until 2025. Ludicrous. More so because it was a small print run, the information in the book is out of date, and I have almost no chance of finding the copyright holders (if any are alive) to ask permission unless I do in-depth genealogy into the family… and why should I have to do that? I shouldn’t after over 100 years. A case where everyone loses.

Here I’ll open another can of worms up for you – Technically, you can use the material by the “Fair Use” clause. But when you actually go and check out what “Fair Use” means you run into a lot of controversy and ambiguity. Also, if you make a “good effort” to find the copyright holders you are more or less in the clear to use the material (but it depends on what a “good effort” constitutes and it’s going to depend on how “nice” the copyright holders are when they discovered you used their material – some might not care while others will try to use it against you).

I ran into the same problem when I wanted to use some material I had found for a student project. I went to several different copyright attorneys and asked about using the material in an educational project and about my fair use of the material and I got several different answers with little consensus. The attorneys did agree on one thing: I’d be using the material at my own risk whether or not it was for “educational purposes” and constituted “fair use.”

When you use someone else’s copyrighted work you always set yourself up for liability. It’s best to always get and have written permission if you use the work.

I’d like it if the governments of the world got together and clarified what constitutes “fair use.” That there would solve a lot of problems we’re having with Copyrights.

The ultimate solution: Create your own, original work and materials.

Create your own, original work and materials.

With the tangled web of copyright squatters, it’s getting difficult to create original work unless you have a team of lawyers or are too obscure to be noticed. You’ll wind up stepping on an old copyright even without meaning to. Think I’m exxagerating? Chick-Fil-A is suing a Vermont farmer for selling T-shirts that said “Eat More Kale” for infringing on their slogan “Eat mor chikin”.

This is so absurd, it would be amusing if someone were to do a giant tag over the original graffiti in question. That would be the true spirit of graffiti.