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Mohave Community College Libraries

Visual Artist Rights Act

The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA) protects an artist’s moral rights regarding his or her artwork including:

(1) the right to claim authoriship;

(2) the right to prevent the use of one's name on any work the author did not create;

(3) the right to prevent use of one's name on any work that has been distorted, mutilated, or modified in a way that would be detrimental to the author's reputation.

The above rights are separate from ownership of the work itself and from the copyright to the work, which includes the right to reproduce, broadcast, display and/or perform the work in public. An artist’s moral rights under VARA can be waived, but unlike title and copyright, cannot be sold or transferred to anyone else. Once the artist gives them up, moral rights to the artwork no longer exist.

17 U.S. Code § 106A

Which works qualify for VARA protection?

Congress limited VARA coverage to “visual art”  meant for public display and not publication, advertising, or any utilitarian purpose. Visual art is defined as:

  • A painting, drawing, print, sculpture, or a photograph produced only for exhibition purposes (not a personal album).
  • The work must exist in one copy or in a limited edition of no more than 200 copies which are consecutively numbered and signed by the artist.

What does not qualify for VARA protection?

  • Any type of art not named above including movies, books, periodicals, maps, advertising materials, etc.
  • Any work for hire, which is:
    • Art you make for your employer as part of your job (not as an independent contractor)
    • Art you contribute to a collective work, such as a textbook, if you sign a contract beforehand expressly saying that the art will be considered work made for hire.

VARA by William Fisher is licensed under CC By NC-SA 2.5

What are the time limits for VARA protection?

  • A work of art created on or after June 1, 1990 receives full protection for as long as the artist (or last surviving artist, if it’s a collaboration) lives.
  • A work of art created before June 1, 1990 is only protected if the artist still has the title to the work and the acts that modified the work occurred after June 1, 1990. These protections will last for 50 years beyond the death of the artist.

Mastroianni, J. (1997). "Work made for hire exception to the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (Vara): Carter v. Helmsley-Spear Inc." Villanova Sports & Entertainment Law Journal, 4(2).


Penalties are governed by general copyright law, permitting actual damages or statutory damages ranging from $300 to $30,000 per work that can be increased up to $150,000 per work for willful violations. § 504(c)(1)-(2).