Art Law – What it Provides to the Art Industry

The art world can be an exciting place, filled with creativity, high dollar investors and collectors, and both experts and strong opinions, in a largely unregulated industry. It has become increasingly evident that legal issues arise which need input and direction from lawyers specializing in the activities happening in and around art. Additionally, artists, galleries, and museums don’t consider what they do a “hobby” and want to be taken seriously, which includes experiencing protection under the law. This is where art law specialists enter the picture.

Art law can be generally defined as a mix of legal concepts surrounding issues related to art, including:

  • Art creation & copyrighting
  • Art collecting and ownership
  • Art buying & selling transactions
  • Business formation
  • Estate planning & taxation issues

All players in the art world need legal protection; artists want their work and intellectual property protected, collectors want to be protected from fraud surrounding misrepresented works of art, galleries want protection when organizing a business and creating contracts for buying and selling artwork, and both individuals and organizations require advice when planning estates and setting up foundations. Therefore, there is real need for lawyers specializing in specific aspects of the law. The list of fields includes:

  • Statutory law
  • Contract law
  • Litigation
  • Tax law
  • Estate planning
  • Intellectual law
  • Nonprofit law
  • Trade law

Artists’ Art Law Needs

Artists have a variety of legal needs where an attorney specializing in art law can be of service. In today’s online world, digital art is easily found, and a simple “cut and paste” can allow any user to obtain and re-use original artwork. It is crucial for artists to understand copyright law to monetize their work to earn a living. Art lawyers provide advice on how to obtain copyright and trademark protection, and can assist artists with registering their copyrights. Art lawyers can also help artists understand contracts, including “terms of service”, so they can understand when contracts are written for their benefit, or to look for red flags.

Collectors’ Legal Concerns

When purchasing pieces of fine art, especially antiquities which may have been produced many years ago and have changed hands several times, authentication and provenance are big concerns. Art lawyers are experienced in dealing with these issues, and some may specialize in certain genres or eras. There is unease with any works of art which may have been looted during WWII. In fact, a website exists,, which deals specifically with these pieces and allows art professionals to deal with artwork which could have been taken under those circumstances. Even if purchasing a piece which has no “shady” history, some buyers want sales contracts reviewed to ensure adequate protection.

Estate Planning

Art is collected for more than enjoyment purposes, and valuable collections need to be covered by some type of long-term plan. Both collectors considering the future of their works after their passing and executors fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities for dealing with art have specific concerns and needs to handle the financial and future ownership and display of artwork.


Art Galleries

Specializing in selling artwork for chosen artists, art galleries have legal needs which are more business-focused. Starting a new business, gallery owners need advice on the business model, as well as transparent contracts which protect buyer, seller, and gallery as well. If an issue surrounding a specific piece arises, gallerists want to know that they have not participated in any unethical or illegal activity. For those galleries showcasing or selling art internationally, having policies in place under international rules and regulations is key to successful exchanges.

Museums’ Unique Art Law Concerns

Art museums face their own unique set of issues as large, sometimes privately-owned, exhibitors of fine art. They may enter into complex agreements between individual, group, corporate, and foundation owners of artwork, and require tight scrutiny of works for authenticity. Additionally, they are closely inspected for concerns surrounding how art was obtained, and whether pieces were taken legally. Agreements between museums regarding traveling or visiting exhibitions also require an experienced legal advisor specializing in art law.

Art Lawyer backgrounds

Many art lawyers balance their love for the two when entering this specialty. Not only do they need to understand a myriad of legal specialties, but benefit from training and experience in art valuation, art history, and other advisory fields. In an industry experiencing contemporary issues discovered with technology (digital media, online auctions, international sales), lawyers with extensive knowledge of the ins and out of the art world are not only in high demand, but becoming key players in the day-to-day activities found therein.

If you are considering retaining an art lawyer, look to the Sybaris Collection. Our network of art professionals includes lawyers who specialize in the art industry, and can provide you with advice on issues surrounding buying, selling, estate planning, and investment-related concerns.