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Artist Files Suit Over Destruction of Renowned Mural Alleging Violation of VARA - IP Blog

Authored by Sal A. Wakil

A noted designer and illustrator who worked on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” has filed a lawsuit over the destruction of his Los Angeles “Six Heads” mural, alleging violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) and the California Art Preservation Act. The case is Thrasher v. Siegel et al., case number 2:17-cv-03047, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Monte S. Thrasher began work on the “Six Heads” mural in 1992, as a homage to science fiction artwork and his neighborhood of Los Feliz, an area known for supporting the arts and artists.  The mural was often photographed, used as a backdrop for fashion shoots, and positively received by online reviewers.  Thrasher had painted the mural by hand with a brush, and would return periodically to touch up the mural.

In June 2014, the mural was painted over “in broad daylight” to make way for a planned new bar named Bukowski’s, and to replace “Six Heads” with a mural of famed poet Charles Bukowski.  Thrasher’s email address was visible on “Six Heads,” but he was not contacted to move or document the mural before its destruction.

VARA protects an artist’s moral right of attribution, which allows an artist to protect the identification of his name with his own work.  VARA also protects the moral right of integrity, which allows the artist to prevent his work from being displayed in an altered, distorted, or mutilated form.  Moral rights legislation recognizes that art ownership is not an absolute property right, and protects rights of a spiritual or personal nature that exist independently of the artist’s copyright.

Thrasher’s complaint under VARA is that his right of integrity was violated because the removal of “Six Heads” was “prejudicial or harmful” to Thrasher’s honor and reputation.  Further, his right of attribution is also violated under VARA because Thrasher’s name was “obliterated.”  The complaint further alleges under VARA that no “diligent good faith attempt” was made to notify Thrasher of the intent to paint over “Six Heads.”

A number of recent cases have arisen under very similar circumstances.  In March, a federal judge refused to dismiss a VARA lawsuit regarding the destruction of “5Pointz,” a famous New York City mural space.  A week later, the sculptor of a 9-11 memorial sued a Manhattan church similarly for removing and damaging his “Trinity Root” sculpture.

Thrasher has shown interest in restoring “Six Heads.”

Tags: Copyright
  • John  Carson
    Of Counsel

    John Carson is of counsel in Lewis Roca’s Intellectual Property Practice Group. Clients turn to John for strategic planning and licensing, and all phases of eCommerce, patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secret law. John is particularly well-versed in computer hardware and ...

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