Here, a mural painted 10 years ago on the retaining wall for a Metra railway. Metra gave the artists permission and they used high quality paints that, even after 10 years, were bright and retained excellent contrast. It was this pop that caught the attention of Metra's neighbor, an unnamed commercial landlord, who signed up a Hertz car rental franchise for his property adjacent to the Metra railway. Mistaking it for graffiti, the landlord unilaterally painted the wall to obliterate what he considered objectionable graffiti.
The artists contend that there were portions that, perhaps, could be mistaken for graffiti but the entire work clearly depicts scenes and characters from Evanston history and the particular community where the mural was located.
The legal issues boil down to Metra's right to seek damages for trespass onto their land and the diminution in value now that a mural has been painted on their retaining wall. Trespass to land is proven with one bent blade of grass, but damages in those cases are merely nominal. Here, Metra has actual damages and the landlord acted flagrantly for his commercial benefit.
In addition to Metra's trespass claim, the artists themselves could sue for trespass to chattels or conversion because their property, a copyrighted work of art, had value that is completely lost due to the intentional acts of the unnamed landlord.
Artists should take steps such as registering their copyrighted works to gain statutory damages and other steps. Even without a federal registry, common law copyright damages are available.
Nair Law LLC focuses its practice on resolving disputes, either through arbitration or litigation, for both sides. Nair Law LLC represents both artists and landlords and this case exemplifies how both stand to gain by litigating for their rights. Nair Law LLC can advise property owners on any property dispute and Nair Law LLC can similarly help artists in any dispute to ensure that their property and rights are protected.