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Altering artwork is forgery or fraud?

New Haven, CT |

I am an artist and I sold a bronze sculpture of mine.. The client changed the color of the patina ( not restoring original color) and changed the original base.! Both without my permission.I do not have the sculpture copyright registered .. I have always considered the base a part of the sculpture. I want to file a lawsuit against my client for what they have done to my work.. My questions?
1.Is changing a base without permission illegal ( I know the color must be! )?
2.What kind of suit do I need to file? Criminal or Civil?
3.What kind of lawyer do I contact?

Attorney Answers 3

  1. This would be a civil lawsuit, including at least a claim under 17 USC 106(a) (the United States adoption of the international principle of droits de auteur), for which you should retain an experienced intellectual property law firm. Although copyright registration is not required to file such a claim, it may be helpful in obtaining other relief under 17 USC 106 (exclusive rights).

    Our offices are in Hartford, and you are welcome to contact me.

    You are not my client. I am not your attorney. The above comments are not confidential, not "legal advice", and not "legal opinion". I am licensed as a patent attorney and in the State of Connecticut. Retain and consult an appropriately licensed attorney to identify the laws and facts material to your concerns.

  2. Altering a work of fine art can be a prohibited thereby entitling the artist to injunctive relief, damages, and other remedies under Connecticut law. Having a litigation attorney (with experience in intellectual property) file a civil lawsuit is one option.

    While common law copyright rights, contract violations, and other legal remedies may exist, Connecticut also has a law (Conn. Gen. Stat. §42-116s) titled “An Act Concerning Art Preservation and Artists' Rights” that provides additional legal remedies for altering a work of fine art. Under the Act a “work of fine art” would include a drawing; painting; sculpture; mosaic; photograph; craft work (i.e. clay, textile, metal, plastic, etc) and other defined works that were produced after October 1, 1988. In addition, to qualify the work cannot have been a commissioned work and must have a market value of at least $2,500.

    If the art qualifies under the Act as a “work of fine art” then it may not be intentionally physically defaced or altered by anyone who is not the artist, because the artist retains at all times the right to claim authorship. The artist may commence an action to recover or obtain injunctive relief (i.e. stopping a defacing before it occurs), actual damages, reasonable attorney's and expert witness fees, and any other relief which the court deems proper.

    If you still want to pursue your client, and you have some actual damages that you believe can be proven, then it’s advisable to contact an attorney to review your specific case facts to evaluate the strength of any claims that may exist.

    If you contact me I’d be willing to evaluate if your request is something we can assist with or provide you a referral to another attorney that maybe able to assist.

    If you've found my answer helpful and informative please below designate as a “Best Answer” or mark that you “Agree”.

    Disclaimer: The foregoing answer does not constitute legal advice, is provided for informational and educational purposes only for persons interested in the subject matter. Each situation is fact specific and may be subject to state specific laws. Without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue it is impossible to evaluate a legal problem fully. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship.

  3. First, as usual, Mr. Harrison has provided a fine answer, and he would be a fine person to contact. As to the other parts of your question, you, as the artist, have what are known as "moral rights" in your work; meaning that you have a right to prevent the intentional modification of your work. The U.S. agreed to enforce moral rights when it became a signatory to the Berne Convention, but, quite honestly, the records of U.S. courts has been..."spotty." This will be a civil (not criminal) case, and Mr. Harrison will be able to guide you through the specifics.

    Good luck!

    This answer is not a substitute for professional legal advice. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice. If you ignore this warning and convey confidential information in a private message or comment, there is no duty to keep that information confidential or forego representation adverse to your interests. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction before taking any action that may affect your rights. If you believe you have a claim against someone, consult an attorney immediately, otherwise there is a risk that the time allotted to bring your claim may expire.