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Copyright Takes to the Streets: Protecting Graffiti Under the Visual Artists Rights Act

Artists who choose the streets as their canvas—whether to beautify neighborhoods, spark political protest, or merely mark their territory—are faced with uncertainties when it comes to questions of copyright protection for their work. Prior to Castillo v. G&M Realty L.P., the rights granted to street artists had generally been uncharted territory. However, a verdict that pitted the rights of street artists against the rights of property owners finally gave street art the credibility many felt it long deserved. In Castillo, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recognized graffiti as a work of visual art, thus providing it copyright protection under the Visual Artists Rights Act (“VARA”) of 1990. This decision reflected a broad change in the perception of unconventional art like graffiti, and it demonstrated the federal courts’ intent on catching up with that change.

Michaela S. Morrissey 

J.D. Candidate 2022, University of Richmond School of Law