The Yale Law Journal

October 2012

The Artist as Brand: Toward a Trademark Conception of Moral Rights

Xiyin Tang

122 Yale L.J. 218 (2012).

The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA) controversially recognized artists’ “moral rights” by protecting their work from alteration or destruction and by preventing the use of an artist’s name on a work he did not create. While moral rights are frequently criticized as antithetical to the traditional economic framework of American intellectual property law, Henry Hansmann and Marina Santilli have suggested that moral rights can be justified economically because they vindicate artists’ pecuniary interests. This Note, in contrast, argues that VARA also benefits the purchasing and viewing public, especially in an era of factory-made or assistant-produced art works. Specifically, moral rights, like trademark law, can reduce search costs, ensure truthful source identification, and increase efficiency in the art market. This comparison between trademark law and moral rights shows that the sort of rights regime established by VARA is neither unique nor unprecedented in American law, and that it is highly economic in character. Thus, this Note hopes to reframe the dialogue surrounding moral rights, shifting it away from the classic “personhood” or “anti-commodification” arguments that have undergirded the rhetoric up to this day.