Form Over Function: Remedying VARA's Exclusion of Visual Art with Functional Qualities

Author:Brandon J. Pakkebier
Position:J.D. Candidate, The University of Iowa College of Law, 2018; B.S., University of Minnesota Twin Cities, 2015
Pages:1329-1359
SUMMARY

The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 ("VARA") grants certain moral rights to creators of statutorily enumerated "visual art." Excluded from the definition of visual art, however, is the undefined category of "applied art." Courts grappling with how to interpret "applied art" have decided on a test that focuses solely on a work of art's functional or utilitarian characteristics. This Note argues... (see full summary)

 
FREE EXCERPT
1329
Form Over Function: Remedying VARA’s
Exclusion of Visual Art with Functional
Qualities
Brandon J. Pakkebier *
ABSTRACT: The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (“VARA”) grants
certain moral rights to creators of statutorily enumerated “visual art.”
Excluded from the definition of visual art, however, is the undefined category
of “applied art.” Courts grappling with how to interpret “applied art” have
decided on a test that focuses solely on a work of art’s functional or utilitarian
characteristics. This Note argues that such an emphasis defeats the goals and
purposes underlying VARA, excludes legitimate visual arts from
qualification, and contradicts both legislative intent and statutory
construction. This Note further argues that a multi-factor test incorporating
aspects of subsidiary copyright law more effectively implements the purposes
and aims of VARA while remaining true to the narrow focus of the statute.
I.INTRODUCTION ........................................................................... 1330
II.THE IMPORTATION OF MORAL RIGHTS TO THE UNITED
STATES ........................................................................................ 1331
A.MORAL RIGHTS GENERALLY .................................................. 1331
B.THE RECOGNITION OF MORAL RIGHTS OUTSIDE THE
UNITED STATES ..................................................................... 1333
C.THE UNITED STATES JOINS THE BERNE CONVENTION .............. 1334
D.THE VISUAL ARTISTS RIGHTS ACT OF 1990: A NARROW
APPROACH TO CONVENTION COMPLIANCE .............................. 1335
1.Congress Excludes Works for Hire from Moral
Rights Protection ......................................................... 1335
2.Congress Further Narrows Moral Rights
Protections by Limiting VARA to Visual Art ............. 1336
E.THE SCOPE OF VARA: JUDICIAL INTERPRETATIONS OF
VISUAL ART AND APPLIED ART ............................................... 1337
*
J.D. Candidate, The University of Iowa College of Law, 2018; B.S., Universit y of
Minnesota Twin Cities, 2015. Thank you to the University of Minnesota Parking and
Transportation Services for being the inspiration behind the search that produced this piece.
1330 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 103:1329
III. TOO BRIGHT A LINE: WHY FUNCTIONALITY IS TOO NARROW
OF A TEST .................................................................................... 1340
A.INTENT TO INCLUDE; EFFECT TO EXCLUDE .............................. 1340
1.Inherently Fine Art with Functional
Characteristics ............................................................. 1341
2.Applied Art with Fine Art Characteristics .................. 1343
B.THE EFFECT ON ART .............................................................. 1344
C.THE ROLE MORAL RIGHTS RECOGNITION PLAYS .................... 1346
IV.VISUAL ART RE-ENVISIONED ....................................................... 1347
A.THE FOUR-PRONG TEST ......................................................... 1348
1.Codifying Recognized Stature .................................... 1348
2.Conceptual Severability .............................................. 1349
3.Mass Reproduction ..................................................... 1351
i.The Noscitur a Sociis Canon Generally ..................... 1351
ii.The Noscitur Canon Is Not Applicable to
Interpreting Applied Art ........................................... 1352
iii.Even if the Noscitur Canon Applies, Mass
Reproduction Is the Proper “Common Grouping”
that Defines Applied Art ........................................... 1352
iv.The Result Is the Same: Applied Art Is Not About
Functionality ........................................................... 1353
4.Artist Intent.................................................................. 1354
B.REDEFINING VISUAL ART BY TEST APPLICATION ..................... 1355
1.Architecture ................................................................. 1355
2.Quilts ............................................................................ 1356
3.The Ship La Contessa ................................................... 1357
C.BALANCING ACT: POLICY AND REALITY .................................. 1358
V.CONCLUSION .............................................................................. 1358
I. INTRODUCTION
The United States entered a new era of artist recognition when it enacted
the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (“VARA”) and simultaneously acceded to
the international Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic
Works (“Berne Convention”). In passing VARA, the United States signaled to
the world that it too would recognize an artist’s intangible interests in
protecting his or her works from destruction, mutilation, or removal, while
also protecting the artist’s name and reputation associated with the art itself.1
Through nearly 25 years of judicial interpretation, however, United States
federal courts have systematically disassembled the protections that VARA
1. See infra notes 20–33 and accompanying text.

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP