Menu / Navigate
View Our Practice Areas

Some call graffiti art; some call it vandalism

California residents likely understand the purpose of vandalism laws. No one wants his or her home sprayed artistically or otherwise with random choices of colored paint. 

To reduce any chance of confusion, however, FindLaw delves deeper into the underlying intent of legal codes against vandalism. "[They] exist to prevent the destruction of property and public spaces, and may also exist to protect against hate crimes..." The purpose, then, is not to limit artistic expression or free speech the First Amendment guarantees, or any other freedom, for that matter. Rather, it is solely for protection. 

Courts have a monumental task when asked to sort through cases involving vandalism. Judges must weigh the freedom of expression citizens of the U.S. value so highly but also consider the rights of individuals and business owners to live without worrying about defacement of their homes and offices. 

A recent lawsuit in New York highlights the tension between these two valid aims. According to the Los Angeles Times, on a set of connected warehouses in New York City, world artists had created more than 10,000 graffiti images over the course of a decade. When reconstruction required demolition of the warehouses, artists argued the building owners had violated their rights to preserve their work. A jury agreed.

The LA Times reported the decision sprung from a 1990 law that protects art of "recognized stature" from destruction. The attorney for the artists argued the graffiti art did, in fact, "rise to the standard," thereby requiring the owners to give the artists 90 days notice before the buildings came down. The owners' attorney countered the nature of graffiti involves painting over another's work and, therefore, does not equate to art of recognized stature.

A judge will "make a final determination" in the case sometime this year, and the LA Times suggests implications for graffiti artists could be significant. At the same time, some expect a long-term effect to include new limitations on public art since many business owners prefer a graffiti-free exterior. 

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information