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MassMOCA v Buechel District Court Opinion

MassMOCA v Buechel District Court Opinion

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Categories:Types, Research, Law
Published by: propertyintangible on Jan 31, 2010
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10/23/2011

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The Visual Artists Rights Act (“VARA”), 17 U.S.C. § 106A,

was passed in 1990 as an amendment to the Copyright Act in order

to implement the provisions of Article 6bis of the Berne

Convention, an international agreement first adopted in

Switzerland in 1886 at the instigation of the French author

Victor Hugo. Phillips v. Pembroke Real Estate, 459 F.3d 128, 133

& n.3 (1st Cir. 2006). Part of the intent of the Convention,

incorporated into VARA, is to protect certain “moral rights” of

artists in the works of art they create. Id. at 133 (citing

Carter v. Helmsley-Spear, Inc., 71 F.3d 77, 81, 83 (2d Cir.

1995)). These moral rights supplement the more purely economic

protections of the Copyright Act.

The statute defines “a work of visual art” as “a painting,

drawing, print, or sculpture, existing in a single copy.” 17

U.S.C. § 101. If an artwork fits within that category, it is

subject to VARA. Exclusions from the definition include

advertising, motion picture or other audio-visual works, and

technical drawings and diagrams. Although none of these apply

directly here, the implication of these exceptions has some

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significance for this case. The statute’s legislative history

suggests that the decision not to include film within VARA’s

protections stemmed in part from the fact that the creation of

this form of art tends to be “a collaborative effort,” with the

possibility of evolving formats in different markets. H.R. Rep.

No. 101-514, at 9.

Even without an explicitly identified exception, in the

leading case in this circuit the court of appeals showed little

hesitation about grafting another exception to the statutory

protections. In the Phillips case, the First Circuit placed one

well-established form of creativity, “site-specific” art, outside

the protection of VARA when its application collided with other

well-recognized legal interests. See Phillips v. Pembroke Real

Estate, 459 F.3d 128, 141-43 (1st Cir. 2006).

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