Court weighing whether graffiti mecca was protected by law

Court Watch

For two decades, Jerry Wolkoff let graffiti artists use his crumbling Queens warehouse complex as a canvas for their vibrant works. Artists gave the spot the name "5Pointz" — a place where all five New York City boroughs come together — but painters traveled from as far as Japan and Brazil to tag, bomb and burn at what became a graffiti mecca and a tourist destination.

But like most graffiti, it didn't last. Wolkoff whitewashed the building in 2013 then tore it down to build luxury apartment towers.

Four years later, some of the artists whose work was destroyed are in court, arguing that even though the building belonged to Wolkoff, the art was protected by federal law.

A trial that started Tuesday at a federal court in Brooklyn will determine whether the artists should be compensated for the lost work.

More than 20 artists sued Wolkoff under the Visual Artists Rights Act, or VARA, a 1990 federal statute that protects artists' rights even if someone else owns the physical artwork.

A trial that started Tuesday at a federal court in Brooklyn will determine whether the artists should be compensated for the lost work.

More than 20 artists sued Wolkoff under the Visual Artists Rights Act, or VARA, a 1990 federal statute that protects artists' rights even if someone else owns the physical artwork.

Barry Werbin, an attorney specializing in intellectual property, said the case is significant because no lawsuit under the statute has been tried by a jury before.