New York jury says developer illegally destroyed graffiti

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New York jury says developer illegally destroyed graffiti
This file photo taken on November 18, 2013 shows the historic graffiti mecca 5 Pointz seen after being painted over by developers in the Long Island City neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. Should graffiti be protected by federal law? That is the question a New York jury is deciding after an extraordinary three-week trial. And if so, should a property owner pay damages? The case pits 21 artists against a wealthy developer. Its focus is 5Pointz, once one of the city's most arresting sights -- a huge building plastered in brilliantly colored, skillfully executed graffiti that won international acclaim. For 20 years developer Jerry Wolkoff invited taggers to showcase their art on the industrial complex he owned, turning it -- in the words of the artists' lawyer into the "world's largest outdoor open aerosol museum." Andrew Burton / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP.

NEW YORK (AFP).- A New York jury has decided that a developer broke US federal law by whitewashing over and demolishing works of graffiti art, recommending that he pay damages.

The groundbreaking verdict was rendered Tuesday following a three-week trial in a case that pitted 21 artists from the former 5Pointz graffiti site in Queens against the wealthy developer who owned the property.

For 20 years developer Jerry Wolkoff invited taggers to showcase their art on the industrial complex he owned, making it -- in the words of the artists' lawyer -- the "world's largest outdoor open aerosol museum."

But in 2014 Wolkoff demolished the site, after whitewashing the art, making way for a planned $400 million luxury residential complex.

The artists sued him for damages, arguing that they should have been given more opportunity to salvage their work before the wrecking ball destroyed what turned into a thriving tourist attraction that won international acclaim.

They sued under a little-known federal law, the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, that says any artwork should be protected, provided it is of recognized stature.

The jury determined that more than half of the 49 pieces of art in question were of recognized stature, and advised that each of the 21 artists be awarded compensation.

But their verdict is only advisory. Judge Frederic Block is expected to issue the final decision, not likely for months, after lawyers submit post-trial briefs.

Either or both parties can then appeal.

"The strong message sent in this case is art which is protected by federal law should be cherished and not destroyed or mutilated," said Eric Baum, lawyer for the artists.

"The court will now use the jury determination in making a final decision on all issues," he added.

David Ebert, the lawyer for Wolkoff, argued at trial that the artists always knew the building was going to come down and that there is no evidence their reputation was harmed.

Agence France-Presse

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New York jury says developer illegally destroyed graffiti

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