Art Law

When I entered this field, it was somewhat surprising for me to find out that many artists do not know the existence of many legal issues. Consequently, when they run into legal problems, they are ill-prepared and often forced to let go of their rights. It is especially true since the amount involved often do not warrant formal legal actions. The purpose of this article is to provide a partial list of legal issues to the artist friends. Comparatively, gallery owners and art collectors are more familiar with legal issues.

First, art is an intellectual product, covered by intellectual property laws, including copyright (e.g., what constitute infringement of other people's rights), trademark (as artists and galleries rely heavily on their reputations, it is important how they label, i.e., trademark, themselves and protect their trademarks), and moral rights (a series of rights, such as right of disclosure, or droit de divulgation, are covered in this category). Many states, such as California, have special statutes on moral rights.

As art is a product of thought, it could easily offend people. As often the case in the art field, such legal issues often affect not only artists, but galleries (as galleries can also be sued) and collectors (as these issues affect the price) also.

Secondly, contracts are involved in selling artworks, e.g., direct sales, consignment, and sales via galleries. Other contracts are needed for representation. Ignoring this field often increases the business risks.

Third, the sale of artworks often contains various guarantees and insurances, covering issues from the risks of shipping damages to counterfeits. It is necessary to be clear who would bear such risks. Auctions bring their own legal issues.

Third-party guarantee is one of the hot topics in today¡¯s art market. It may be helpful in certain circumstances.

Fourth, as art, in effect, is an investment, taxation planning and inheritance are frequently issues. Trust is often a legal tool in this regard.

Fifth, when an art piece crosses national borders, international law is involved.

Sixth, special issues, such as whether the art has been stolen previously, may impact the rights of the buyers.

Seventh, many states, such as California, have additional statutory laws regulating the art market.

As the first step of protecting the rights of artists, galleries, and collectors, they, at least, need to be aware of the existent of legal issues involving the art field. Certainly, properly handling those legal issues is another matter.

As the author, Attorney Pujie Zheng, specializes in intellectual property and commercial law, and is himself a painter, he is uniquely suitable in the art field.