Graffiti artists have a tendency to display their artwork on other people’s properties.
Question: Who owns a Banksy image on a property and therefore who can remove it and sell it?
Answer: The Court in Creative Foundation v. Dreamland Leisure,  EWHC 2556 held that, although a tenant was justified in removing a Banksy image, the landlord still owns the removed wall and Banksy image.
We feel that the above balance has been correctly struck. The landlord should be able to freely dispose of or sell their defaced property. It is after all their property; the tenant merely has a right to stay in the property for a set period. The landlord neither asked for, nor allowed, the Banksy image and so their property ownership rights shouldn’t be restricted or somehow changed simply because of the criminal, albeit artistic, actions of Banksy.
But what about the Copyright in the artwork?
The Court, in passing, somewhat surprisingly stated that the copyright to the Banksy image continues to belong to Banksy. As such a graffiti artist can still own the copyright in their artwork even though the creation of the artwork involved committing a crime and the defacing of property. By continuing to own the copyright in their artwork the graffiti artist could potentially make a claim for a royalty from any landlord who sells their artwork. Such royalty payable by a landlord to the graffiti artist could represent a significant percentage of the sale price of the artwork. Unfortunately for the graffiti artist however, in order to claim their royalty they would have to reveal their identity and prove they were the author of the artwork. This can create a very real and serious problem for the graffiti artist. By admitting that they were the graffiti artist, they are admitting to committing a crime which could lead to a fine or even time in prison. Additionally there could also be civil claims from the owners of the defaced property.
From the above the only real likely winner is the landlord as owner of the building. A graffiti artist like Banksy will generally get no value from such work, nor will any tenant. This is great if the graffiti is a Banksy or a thing of beauty, otherwise it’s just vandalism.
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