2314.3 The Purpose of the Visual Arts Registry
Section 106A of the Copyright Act protects the reputation of certain artists and the work of visual art that they create. Specifically, it provides the author of a work of visual art with the right of attribution and the right of integrity.
• The right of attribution allows artists (I) to claim authorship of the work of visual art they create, (ii) to prevent others from identifying them as the author of any work of visual art that they did not create, and (iii) to prevent others from using the artist’s name in connection with a work of visual art that has been distorted, mutilated, or modified in a way that would be prejudicial to the artist’s honor or reputation. See 17 U.S.C. § 106A (A) (1), (2).
• The right of integrity allows the author of a work of visual art to prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work that would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation, and to prevent any destruction of a work of recognized stature. See 17 U.S.C. § 106A (A) (3).
The rights of attribution and integrity apply to work of visual art that have been incorporated in or made a part of a building, such as murals, frescos, mosaics, stained glass windows, architectural sculptures, and similar installations. However, there are a number of exceptions to the right of integrity, which are set forth in Sections 106A (C) and 113 (D) of the Copyright Act.
If the owner of a building wishes to remove a work of visual art from a building and if it can be removed without destroying, distorting, mutilating, or modifying the work, the owner may remove that work without violating the author’s right of integrity, provided that the following conditions have been met:
• The building owner made a diligent, good faith attempt to notify the author of the owner’s intent to remove the work from the building (but did not succeed in notifying the author); or
• The building owner successfully notified the author in writing of the owner’s intent to remove the work, but the author failed to remove the work or to pay for its removal within ninety days after receiving such notice.
17 U.S.C. § 113 (D) (2).
The statute states that a building owner “shall be presumed to have made a diligent, good faith attempt” to notify the author of a work of visual art if the owner sent the notice to the author by registered mail. Id.
Congress recognized that “owners may find it difficult to locate authors whose works have been incorporated into buildings.” H.R. REP. NO. 101-514, at 20 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 6930. To address this concern, Congress instructed the Register of Copyrights to establish a system permitting an author of a work of visual art to record his or her identity and address with the U.S. Copyright Office. Congress also instructed the Office to establish a system permitting building owners to record statements concerning their efforts to notify authors of their intent to remove a work of visual art from a building. See 17 U.S.C. § 113 (D) (3).
In response to this directive, the Office created the Visual Arts Registry. It is intended to benefit both “authors seeking to protect their rights” and “building owners attempting diligently, and in good faith, to notify these authors of proposed removals.” H.R. REP. NO. 101-514, at 21 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 6930-31.