What Has the Visual Arts Rights Act of 1990 Accomplished?

28 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2020

See all articles by William M. Landes

William M. Landes

University of Chicago Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: May 2001


This paper presents an economic analysis of the Visual Arts Rights Act of 1990 (VARA) which provides attribution and integrity rights, commonly called moral rights, for defined types of artistic works. The paper shows that these laws may actually harm artists by adding contracting and transaction costs in the art market. For most works, these costs will be trivial because collectors have a strong self-interest in preserving works in good condition. These costs are likely to be significant, however, for works subject to destruction or alteration in the future, such as site-specific works and works installed in buildings, because purchasers will require waivers rather than risk violating the Act. The paper also examines the few cases that have been litigated under VARA. Consistent with the economic model, these cases involve large-scale works by relatively unknown artists that have been destroyed by building projects. Finally, the paper presents an empirical analysis of state moral rights laws. Nine states enacted these laws prior to VARA. These laws had no significant effect on artist earnings but a positive and significant effect on the number of artists living and working in the state.

Keywords: VARA, copyright, art, moral rights laws

Suggested Citation

Landes, William M., What Has the Visual Arts Rights Act of 1990 Accomplished? (May 2001). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=270985 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.270985

William M. Landes (Contact Author)

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

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