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Art Law Seminar Description – Spring 2015

Professor Dominick Vetri

Classes – Tu & Th, 3-4:15 PM, Room 281

Books: Prowda, Visual Arts & the Law (2013) & Thompson, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art (2008)

Basis of Grade: Paper or Take Home ExamMona

Marcel Duchamp, 1919, cheap postcard with modifications, after Leonardo daVinci’s Mona Lisa, 1503-06. Duchamp is considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century, and considered the inventor of “conceptual art.”

Is this a copyright infringement? Fair use? Actionable mutilation? Appropriation art?

            The Art Law course opens up the world of the law related to the visual arts.  It is a significant learning experience that informs you about art, artists, the operations of the art world, art markets and art institutions, art business, and art conflicts.  Art Law expands your legal knowledge and understanding, improves your legal skills, and presents a challenging new experience to your law studies.  It is an enjoyable and satisfying area of law for study, and can be a specialty that lawyers can develop as a part of their law practice. The course pulls together many strands from diverse areas of law, such as, property, tort, criminal law, trusts, non-profit law, intellectual property, copyrights, and  procedure. Usually, a few graduate students in Arts Administration and Art History join us as class members and broaden our perspectives. We will engage in a variety of learning activities and skills training to accomplish our objectives.

            Art Law provides an overview of the law’s relationship to the art world. The connections and interrelationships are many, significant, and often fraught with social tensions. The course gives us the opportunity to learn about the working of the modern art market with contemporary global auction sales of artworks for tens of millions of dollars as well as the local art gallery sales by community artists.  Our studies take us through legal tangles of art transactions in stolen art, the legalities of appropriation art, artists’ First Amendment rights and constraints resulting from privacy and the right of publicity, Nazi looted art works during the Second World War, the current black market traffic and repatriation of looted cultural property, and the Detroit bankruptcy jeopardizing the city museum’s collection. In the process we learn much about the work and legal frameworks for artists, collectors, art dealers, art experts, auction houses, museums, as well as modern art movements and the contemporary art world.

             Copyright protection for the visual arts is of considerable significance; this leads us into rights protected by copyright, infringement of copyright, fair and transformative use of copyrighted works, and the special moral rights of artists to protect attribution of origination and against mutilation and destruction of art works.  The First Amendment is an important component of art law as well. It plays a role in the areas, among others, of determinations of fair use of copyrighted works, censorship of art by public institutions, the criminal law of obscenity in art cases, government regulation of the arts through subsidy, and visual art use of celebrity and corporate iconic imagery.

            The course emphasizes several main areas: 1) the law related to artists’ rights and responsibilities; 2) copyright and moral rights in the visual arts; 3) the marketing of art through galleries and auction houses; 4) legal issues related to museum operations; and 5) stolen art including issues of war looted art with a particular focus on Holocaust Era Art acquired by theft, expropriation or coerced sales. We examine relevant cases, statutes, law review articles, and general narrative readings, news and magazine articles. We typically take a field trip to the University of Oregon Art Museum and to the Portland Art Museum to meet and talk with art professionals. In addition, we integrate information and the images of the artworks which are the focus of our readings and legal cases, as well as brief information about the artists.

            Grading for the class is based on a research paper or a take-home exam as determined by the student at the beginning of the course. Students are encouraged to write research papers to develop expertise in a particular area of interest of art law, further their writing and thinking skills, and to produce a work product that may be helpful in demonstrating professional skills.

            Below is a brief Overview of the Art Law course.   Also you can check out one or more of the art law blogs listed at the end that demonstrate the cutting edge issues posed by the art law world in contemporary times.

Overview of Art Law Spring 2015

  • Introduction

    • What is Art? What is Art Law? Why study Art Law?
  • The Art Market

    • Galleries, Auctions, Art Fairs, Art Festivals, Museum Donations
  • Artist Moral Rights

    • Integrity, Attribution, Modification, Destruction, Visual Artists Rights Act, Resale Royalty
  • Artist/Collector Contractual Rights

    • Dealer Consignment Relationships
    • Multiples of Art Works
  • Copyright & the Visual Arts

    • Subject Matter, Exclusive Rights, Duration, Infringement, Fair Use, Visual Artists Rights Act
  • Authentication & Fraud

    • Techniques of authentication
    • Use of experts
  • Stolen Art/Illicit International Trade in Cultural Property

    • Theft, Provenance, Bona Fide Purchaser Status, Statutes of Limitation, Stolen Art Databases
    • Illicit Cultural Property Trade a Major Global Problem, Treaties: International & Bilateral, National Stolen Property Act, Museum Professional Responsibilities, Reforms
  • Holocaust Era Art

    • Historical Background, Recovery Lawsuits by Heirs in U.S., Barriers & Breakthroughs
    • Museum Professional Responsibilities: Acquisitions, Donations & Loans
  • Native Americans Grave Protection & Repatriation  Act

    • Business of auctions, Bidding Process, Consignment Fees, Buyers’ Premium, Warranties
  • Art Museums

    • Organizations: Trusts & Non-Profit Corporations, Accountability, Professional Ethics, Deaccessioning of Art, Conflicts of Interest, Museums & Corporatism/Commercialism
  • Free Speech

    • Government as Regulator – Censorship,  Government as Patron – Purchaser, Government as Subsidizer – National Endowment for the Arts
    • Right of Publicity – Public Figures, Celebrities, Private Persons Control Over Likenesses & Identities and Artist Rights under Freedom of Expression Principles


Excellent Art Law Blogs


The Art Law Report

Art Law Gallery Art Law Blog

Culture Grrl

Clancco Art & Law

Center for Art Law

Illicit Cultural Property

Art in America Magazine

Oregon Law » Faculty & Staff » Art Law Seminar Description – Spring 2015
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