I had a wonderful time at a week-long intellectual property rights seminar I attended this month. I come away from it, if but a tiny bit wiser, than at least full of juicy and surprising facts about intellectual property that I must share with you guys. (And you really should read “juicy” in the broadest, most liberal sense.)
- Did you know that architecture works, like buildings, are protected by copyright? More specifically, the Architectural Works Protection Copyright Act was passed in 1990, and it protects “[d]esign of a building as embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings”. This means that for the buildings that qualify for such protection, you can’t come look at the building and then go home to build one like it. If you do and are found to have violated the copyright act, then the court could order the destruction of your building as a remedy. Tough, eh?
- The Visual Artist Rights Act (VARA) is the US federal government’s incorporation of moral rights for artists. Moral rights give artists of visual works — paintings, drawings, sculptures — the right to, among other things, “to prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation”. This means that if, say, an artist friend sculpted something for you that you later realize you would like so much better if it were in a different color, then as you take a bucket of red paint to the sculpture, you may in fact be violating his moral rights and breaking the law.
- The VARA is not ordinarily thought of as an economic right; that is, its main purpose is not to propertize a right so that artists can make money by charging people for the permission to enjoy that right. This is contrast with other rights protected by copyright, e.g. the right to reproduce and distribute a work that is the backbone for a functioning book market. Indeed, while the rights conferred under VARA can be waived as part of a contract (and money can change hands to facilitate that happening), some states’ protection of artists’ moral rights cannot be waived. That is, artists cannot credibly commit to not suing their buyers should those buyers want to modify the works later on in exchange for a handsome sum of money now.
Nonetheless, I would think that these moral rights have very real economic consequences. Any potential buyer of art works now realize that they are buying a much different product than before these moral rights came into play. By buying art, they’re exposing themselves to liabilities that do not exist for alternatives. They’re buying something over which they have significantly less control than ownership of anything else would ordinarily confer. This must have an effect on the ability of artists to sell their works. I think of this as an inward shift of the demand curve, resulting in both the quantity of artwork sold dropping and the price for the works that are sold dropping as well. Furthermore, I would speculate that the passage of such moral rights legislation has a differential impact on artists. The already-famous artists may be able to leverage these newly conferred rights into higher prices for their works since the demand for their products are relatively inelastic. For the artists who haven’t quite made it yet, however, these rights may well be an impediment to the dissemination of their artistic endeavors.
- I had earlier thought of intellectual property law as a three-legged stool, the legs being copyright, trademark, and patent laws. However, I now have an inkling that protection for intellectual property comes from a much fuller panoply of rights. Besides our good, old three-legged stool, intellectual property may be protected by the right to privacy, the right of publicity, the law of unfair competition, and the appearance of endorsement. Ah, I have so much to learn.