Does the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 apply to the removal of confederate monuments?

“There’s no issue of public interest that copyright law cannot make worse. So let me ruin your day by pointing out there’s a copyright angle to the monument controversy: the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), a 1990 addition to the copyright statute that allows certain artists to control what happens to their art long after they’ve created it and no longer own it,” wrote Techdirt’s Cathy Gellis in Because Of Course There Are Copyright Implications With Confederacy Monuments. On The Faculty Lounge, Brian Frye discusses the applicability of of VARA to the current controversy. From Moral Rights & Confederate Monuments:

[T]he question becomes whether removing and relocating such a monument would infringe the VARA right of integrity. Under the canonical interpretation, I doubt it. Confederate monuments are typically stand-alone works that can easily be removed in one piece without damaging the work. But what about “site-specificity”? Artists argue that the right of integrity should extend to the physical location of works, if the meaning of the work depends on its physical location. But many Confederate monuments were deliberately placed in civic spaces in order to communicate a particular message: endorsement of Jim Crow, segregation, and racism. If a Confederate monument is moved out of a place of civic honor, surely that affects its meaning.

— Joe

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