The US Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal by the developer, G & M Realty in the 5Pointz case, leaving in place a judgment of $6.75 million against G & M Realty. The case stems from the destruction of 45 “street art” murals in 2013. The murals had been painted by various artists over the years on an abandoned warehouse, and, notably, with the permission of G & M Realty, the owner. The murals became a destination in New York City and attracted artists and tourists from all over the world.
In 2013 G & M Realty finalized plans to convert the warehouse into luxury apartments. The owner did not inform the artists of his plans nor give them an opportunity to remove the murals or record them digitally. One early November morning, G & M Realty had the murals whitewashed. The owner of the company said he did not want to upset the artists who would watch their murals destroyed. The artists sued G & M Realty under the Visual Artist’s Rights Act (VARA), a section of the Copyright Act that protects an artist’s right to attribution of a work and against intentional damage or destruction of the work. The act states that an owner is liable if he or she knowingly destroys a visual work of art of “recognized stature” and face up to $150,000 in statutory damages for each work. The court rejected G & M Realty’s argument that it acted the way it did to protect the artists’ feelings. Instead, it found that G & M Realty had willfully destroyed 45 works and assessed the full $150,000 for each work. G & M Realty appealed the ruling arguing that the standard of “recognized stature” was unconstitutionally vague. The appellate court upheld the lower court’s ruling, leading to the appeal to the Supreme Court. With the Supreme Court’s rejection of the case, the lower ruling stays in place.
After seven years of litigation, the 5Pointz case stands for the principle that “street art” and murals painted on a building with the building owner’s permission are worthy of protection and can meet the standard of “recognized stature”.