First Circuit Holds That Artists Have Moral Rights In Unfinished Works
By Debbie Rosenbaum – Edited by Alissa Del Riego
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art Foundation v. Büchel, No. 08-2199 (1st Cir. Jan. 27, 2010)
On January 27, the First Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the Museum of Contemporary Art, holding that artists have moral rights in unfinished artworks.
The First Circuit decided a number of complex issues related to the Visual Artists Rights Act (“VARA”), holding that VARA’s protection of an artist’s moral rights extends to unfinished creations that are “works of art” within the meaning of the Copyright Act. In so holding, the court reasoned that “moral rights protect the personality and creative energy that an artist contributes to his or her work,” and “[t]hat convergence between artist and artwork does not await the final brushstroke or the placement of the last element in a complex installation.”
The court also ruled that the district judge in the lower court improperly granted the Museum of Contemporary Art summary judgment for one of Büchel’s integrity claims under VARA and his Copyright Act claim finding that there were “material disputes of fact” that should be decided by a jury about whether the museum distorted Mr. Büchel’s installation by showing it to several people after making changes in it without his approval. However, the First Circuit ruled that Büchel’s right-of-attribution claim was moot because VARA provides only injunctive relief to protect the right of attribution and his installation no longer exists.
The New York Times and the Copyright Litigation Blog both provide an overview of the case. The Boston Globe provides a good news story that includes the facts going back to the initial dispute. (more…)