Over twenty years ago, in Leicester v. Warner Bros., the Ninth Circuit limited copyright protection for a certain sculptural complex located within a downtown Los Angeles high‑rise. The court determined that the sculpture, otherwise protected from pictorial reproduction, could be visually replicated without infringing on the artist’s copyright because it was part of its architectural context.
This Note explores two recent copyright cases where companies capitalized on painted street art, using the works as backdrops for social media advertising. The resulting litigation calls into question Leicester’s holding and the extent to which it may allow visual reproduction of non-sculptural works incorporated into architecture. This Note’s introduction addresses the rise of legal disputes in the street art community and the circumstances of these recent cases. Part II addresses fundamentals of domestic copyright law and the varied protection for certain forms of authorship. Part III discusses an important exception for the visual reproduction of architectural works and judicial application of the exception to disputes involving painted street art. Part IV argues that Leicester should not serve as the legal standard for all such controversies, and Part V articulates a clarified inquiry to limit judicial dependency on Leicester.
Llewellyn Kittredge Shamamian, PGS, I Love You: Rebuilding Copyright for Architecturally-Situated Pictorial, Graphic, and Sculptural Works, 77 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. Online 271 (2021), https://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/wlulr-online/vol77/iss2/3