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Artist Versus Treasure Hunters

OPB | Aug. 19, 2013 12:35 p.m. | Updated: Sept. 11, 2013 1:20 a.m.

Early this year, Brad Daily and Mike Claxton won an auction for a locked storage unit in Independence, a town just southwest of Salem. When they opened it, they found 114 paintings by internationally renowned artist and Oregon State University alumna Tala Madani. Last week, the two men filed a suit against her, claiming she was interfering with their attempts to sell the art. They say she scuttled a $15,000 sale to the prestigious Phillips Gallery by threatening the gallery with a lawsuit and denying the authenticity of the work.

The new storage unit owners want a judge to get her out of their way, and claim more than $250,000 is at stake.

Madani is asserting a set of rights she has under the federal Visual Artists Rights Act. It doesn’t give her ownership or copyright claims, but it does give her what are called “moral rights.” Those stay with her no matter who owns her work. Moral rights include her right to claim authorship of a work (though disclaiming a work is a trickier matter). She could also prevent someone else from saying a work is hers.

At issue is whether these paintings, many of them signed by Madani, are her works. But even more interesting, says lawyer Kenneth Kahn, is whether a particular piece should be a considered a work of art (rather than, for instance, a draft that was not intended for public view). 

Are you a visual artist or collector? Have you ever had to protect a work you owned or had made?

GUEST:

  • Kenneth Kahn: Lawyer

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