Law Office of David MacTavish, LLC

Chicago skyline Chicago metro area

Art Law


The area of art law is like many other areas of law, it is an umbrella of sorts in that it typically involves a number of legal disciplines depending upon the facts of the case.


An art owner, for example, may be interested in licensing and contracting to allow another person or firm to use the artwork for a temporary period of time or to sell the artwork outright to another person or entity. If the artwork has been used without authorization, let's say it was displayed in a corporate lobby, then copyright may be involved.  Or, perhaps the art was taken by someone known to the owner. The owner then needs a lawyer experienced in intentional torts for the theft, possible damage, and loss of value to the owner.


Not long ago, artwork often appeared in television shows, films, and still photography scenes without authorization of the owner (i.e., the copyright owner, generally, the artist). Also, in the early years of the Internet many Website owners either knowingly or unwittingly scanned and used artwork in their Websites without permission. Now, at least more distinctive works of art are specifically licensed for use in films and photo sessions, and Website owners scan and display art without authorization at their peril. 


Remember, if you have purchased but do not own the copyright to the artwork, which is typically the case in most transactions, the artwork may not be reproduced, displayed–except in your own home or office, distributed to the public by sale, and derivative works may not be prepared from the original work. You may sell the artwork to another person or entity, but the rules restricting them accompany the artwork. If you have purchased artwork you do not own the copyright unless it specifically says so on the receipt. In that case, all you own is the physical artwork and the only right you have is to display it in your home or office, not in a public place. 


Art law is generally thought to involve "fine" art and doesn't include transactions between authors and parties intending to use copyrightable works commercially, for example, businesses licensing limited rights to reproduce photographs, illustrations, and the like in publications or other vehicles promoting the business, its goods, services, and employees. 


If you have works of art and would like to discuss how to protect it in sales or license transactions or if you have a problem regarding artwork, please call or e–mail the Law Office of David MacTavish, LLC.