Case NameCarter v. Helmsley-Spear, Inc
Citation: 71 F.3d 77 (1995) 
TopicsModification and Destruction of Artists’ Works (VARA)

Two sculptors created a site-specific sculpture in the lobby of a building. After the new building owners removed the sculpture without permission, the artists sued for violations of the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA). VARA prohibits the distortion, mutilation, or other modification of an artist’s work, but does not extend to “works made for hire” (where, depending upon the circumstances, the party who has commissioned the work is deemed to be the creator and original owner of it). VARA generally aims to protect two rights:

  • The right of "integrity" which allows the creator of the work to prevent any deforming or mutilating changes to a work, even after he or she has transferred ownership of the work.
  • The right of "attribution" which generally consists of the artist’s right to be recognized by name as the author of a work and to prevent creation of the work from being attributed to someone else. This right includes the right to prevent use of the author’s name on works created by others, including distorted editions of the author’s original work.

However, because the court concluded the artists’ sculpture here was a work made for hire, it was not protected by VARA. Factors considered in determining whether a work was produced for hire include the artist’s right to control the manner and means by which the product was produced, the location of the work, the duration of the relationship between the parties, the method of payment and provision of employee benefits, and the tax treatment of the artist.

These materials are not intended, and should not be used, as legal advice. They necessarily contain generalizations that are not applicable in all jurisdictions or circumstances. Moreover, court decisions may be superseded by subsequent rulings, and may be subject to alternative interpretations. Corrections, clarification, and additions are welcome here.