On Sunday, the Chicago Tribune reported that a copyright dispute is brewing on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street in Chicago, click here for the Tribune article. In the 1980s, Israeli artist Yaacov Agam was commissioned to create a sculpture for what would become the Stone Container building at 150 N. Michigan Avenue.* Over time, Chicago weather faded the work and the current owner hired an expert to restore the multi-hued work to its original look. Agam is unhappy with the restoration because he believes the colors were not restored to the exact shades Agam originally used.
Agam’s counsel admits that VARA, the Visual Artists Rights Act, does not protect Agam’s position because the work was created before 1990 and because Agam no longer owns his work. But Agam claims to hold the copyright in the work and argues that the copyright allows him to prevent the current owner from creating a derivative work, which Agam believes the restored work to be because of the changed colors. The dispute is likely governed by the contract commissioning Agam to make the work. Of course, it is possible, and maybe even likely, that the contract is silent or ambiguous regarding derivative works or that it was an oral contract without proof of what the parties intended. It will be interesting to see how the dispute is resolved and, I am sure, people who work in the area will be glad when the wooden stump currently in the work’s place is replaced by some restored version of the work.