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Graffiti Museum: A First Amendment Argument for Protecting Uncommissioned Art on Private Property

34 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2012  

Margaret Mettler

University of Michigan Law School - JD Candidate Author

Date Written: October 31, 2012

Abstract

Graffiti has long been a target of municipal legislation that aims to preserve property values, public safety, and aesthetic integrity in the community. Not only are graffitists at risk of criminal prosecution but property owners are subject to civil and criminal penalties for harboring graffiti on their land. Since the 1990s, most U.S. cities have promulgated graffiti abatement ordinances that require private property owners to remove graffiti from their land, often at their own expense. These ordinances define graffiti broadly to include essentially any surface marking applied without advance authorization from the property owner.

Meanwhile, graffiti has risen in prominence as a legitimate art form, beginning in the 1960s and most recently with the contributions of street artists such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey. Some property owners may find themselves fortuitous recipients of “graffiti” they deem art and want to preserve in spite of graffiti abatement ordinances and sign regulations requiring the work’s removal. This Note argues that private property owners who wish to preserve uncommissioned art on their land can challenge these laws under the First Amendment, claiming that, as applied, regulations requiring removal are unconstitutional because they leave the property owner insufficient alternative channels for expression.

Keywords: Graffiti, street art, First Amendment, alternative channels, aesthetic regulation, sign ordinances

Suggested Citation

Mettler, Margaret, Graffiti Museum: A First Amendment Argument for Protecting Uncommissioned Art on Private Property (October 31, 2012). Michigan Law Review, Vol. 111, No. 2, p. 249, 2012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2169546

Margaret Mettler (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School - JD Candidate Author ( email )

Ann Arbor, MI
United States

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