Graffiti Ruled to be Worth Millions in New York Case

Graffiti is usually considered to be an eyesore, but in at least one case it has been labeled as valuable artwork. It was deemed so valuable in this case that a court has awarded millions of dollars to those responsible for its creation, this to compensate for its destruction.
The graffiti in question had covered a complex of buildings in the Queens section of New York City. The owner of the property had the graffiti erased in 2013 as part of a renovation project that would ultimately involve the razing of the buildings and their replacement with luxury apartments. However, some of the graffiti was considered artwork of a “recognized stature,” and was thus protected under the Visual Artists and Rights Act, a federal law enacted in 1990. It was this law that served as the basis of the court action.
A jury ruled against the property owner, leading to the awarding by a federal judge of $6.7 million to 21 graffiti artists. Although the jury had initially concluded that only 36 separate pieces of artwork were legally protected, the judge increased the number to 45 when he approved of the damages, which were the largest allowed under the law. Several art experts had testified that the graffiti was of sufficient stature to receive protective status. More about the case is available at
The graffiti had actually been authorized by the owner in 1993 as a means of fighting crime that was rampant in the area. The complex would subsequently become a tourist mecca because of the unique murals that some considered more than simple graffiti. However, it was generally agreed upon by both sides that the buildings would eventually be taken down.
The law had in the past been used against clothing designers who had copied the work of graffiti artists, with those cases being classified as “intellectual” thievery. However, this is the first time it was cited to protect specific examples of graffiti.