Last week, a federal judge, Frederic Block, may have established legal precedent to the unwritten code. Jerry Wolkoff, the developer who owns the building known as 5Pointz in Long Island City, Queens, was fined $6.7 million for painting over the works of 21 graffiti artists. Even though Mr. Wolkoff owned the building that was painted, a jury found that under the Visual Arts Rights Act, the art was protected.It was an odd and belated sense of validation for the graffiti artists, even though they sensed that Mr. Wolkoff’s legal team underestimated the art form. [...]Still, the artists were stunned by the size of the award issued by Judge Block. The $6.7 million was the maximum penalty, based on $150,000 for each of the 45 works the judge deemed worthy of protection.
Here's the interesting part:
The way the art was destroyed, however, was most upsetting. Mr. Wolkoff, intending to raze the building to build condominiums, hired a team to whitewash the building at night. But the warehouse remained standing for nearly a year after the graffiti had been destroyed. It seemed to the artists to be a deliberate insult to the thousands of hours of work put into the murals. Judge Block thought so as well.“If not for Wolkoff’s insolence, these damages would not have been assessed,” the judge said at the ruling. “If he did not destroy 5Pointz until he received his permits and demolished it 10 months later, the court would not have found that he had acted willfully.”It was the fact that galvanized the artists as well. “It gave the vibe to everyone that our art was worthless,” Mr. Tramontozzi said.
Dean Nicyper, a New York-based lawyer specializing in art law, considers Monday’s ruling to be a landmark decision.“But I do think the breadth of the decision might be somewhat limited,” he said. “It’s limited to cases where people have created their art on a structure with permission.”Mr. Nicyper said he believes the decision may have been different if Mr. Wolkoff had not granted the artists permission. It could also hinder graffiti artists in the future. “Does this create a chilling effect?” Mr. Nicyper asked. “Building owners are going to be reluctant to give permission.”