Using Public Disclosure as the Vesting Point for Moral Rights under the Visual Artists Rights Act
In 2010, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit confronted the novel question of when moral rights protections vest under the Visual Artists Rights Act. In Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art Foundation, Inc. v. Bichel, the First Circuit determined that the protections of the Visual Artists Rights Act begin when a work is “created” under the Copyright Act. This Note argues that this decision harms moral rights conceptually and is likely to result in unpredictable and inconsistent decisions. This Note proposes instead that these statutory protections should vest when an artist determines that his work is complete and presents it to the public. This standard is more consistent with the history of moral rights. Additionally, public access is necessary to justify a treatment of art different from that of other types of property, and it is a more essential component of moral rights than an artist’s feelings of connection to his work. Finally, the legislative intent behind the Visual Artists Rights Act and the reasoning in previous judicial decisions are more accurately reflected by a public disclosure standard. Utilizing “creation” as a vesting point for moral rights is not supported by the history of the Visual Artists Rights Act and will result in uncertainty and inconsistency in future decisions.