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MassMOCA v Buechel District Court Opinion

MassMOCA v Buechel District Court Opinion

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Published by: propertyintangible on Jan 31, 2010
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10/23/2011

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURTFOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS  MASSACHUSETTS MUSEUM OF )CONTEMPORARY ART FOUNDATION,)INC.,)Plaintiff ))v. ) C.A. No. 07-30089-MAP)CHRISTOPH BÜCHEL, )Defendant ) MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDINGCROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT(Dkt. Nos. 28 & 32)July 11, 2008PONSOR, D.J.I. INTRODUCTIONIn early 2006, Plaintiff Massachusetts Museum ofContemporary Art Foundation, Inc. (“MASS MoCA” or “the museum”)and Defendant Christoph Büchel agreed orally to work together onthe construction of an enormous art installation, roughly thesize of a football field, broadly conceived by Büchel and entitled “Training Ground for Democracy.” For most of 2006 MASS MoCA, at its own expense, acquired and installed nearly all thecomponents of the mammoth exhibition, attempting to follow thelargely-absent artist’s general instructions.
 
-2-During the latter stages of the work’s fabrication, disputes between the artist and the museum staff, mainly via e-mail, grew bitter. In summary, the museum felt the artist’s directions werevague, and his financial and logistical demands were increasinglyunreasonable; the artist felt the museum was compromising hisartistic integrity and failing to follow his instructions. Byearly January 2007 Büchel was threatening to terminate his rolein the project unless certain specific terms were met. Negotiations followed, but by the spring of 2007 the relationshiphad broken down, and Büchel informed the museum of his finaldecision to abandon “Training Ground for Democracy.” Theinstallation, by now more than eighty percent completed, wascovered with tarpaulins, and there it sat. At one point museum visitors were directed past it, on their way to another exhibitin the same building.Eventually, MASS MoCA made the decision (later reversed)that it wished to remove the coverings and show the partiallyfinished installation, if legally permissible. On May 21, 2007,therefore, MASS MoCA filed a one-count complaint in this court,seeking a declaratory judgment that it was “entitled to presentto the public the materials and partial constructions assembled in connection with the exhibit planned with Büchel.” (Dkt. No.
 
-3-1, Compl. 7.)Büchel responded with a counterclaim offering five counts.In Count I, he sought (a) a declaratory judgment holding that any public display of the unfinished installation would violate hisrights, and (b) a permanent injunction barring any such publicdisplay, all based upon the Visual Artists Rights Act (“VARA”),17 U.S.C. § 106A. In Count II, also pursuant to VARA, heclaimed monetary damages (a) resulting from the museum’s decisionto allow patrons to walk past the installation while undertarpaulins, on the grounds that this constituted a form ofexhibition and distorted his work, and (b) resulting from museum staff working on the installation without his supervision. InCount III, he sought damages because, he said, MASS MoCA’salleged display of the covered installation materials alsoviolated the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 106(5), by appropriatinghis exclusive right to exhibit his artwork publicly. Finally, inCounts IV and V, he contended that he was entitled to damagesunder 17 U.S.C. § 106(2), which gives an artist the exclusiveright to create “derivative” works based either upon thecopyrighted original work, or upon that work’s model and plans.In his prayers for relief, in addition to a declaratory judgment,a permanent injunction and monetary damages, Defendant sought an

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