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Copyright Blog

Moral Rights Case Ends in Settlement

Artist and College have Reached a Settlement in their Dispute Concerning Copyright and Moral Rights in an Abstract Sculptural Installation

We first reported on this case in March of 2021, not long after Molly Mason ("Mason") filed suit against Kirkwood Community College ("Kirkwood"), alleging that Kirkwood had made changes to a sculpture titled "Before the Sun Speaks" (the "Work") that Mason had installed on Kirkwood's campus. The Work is made of stainless steel and kiln-formed glass with an incorporated water feature, and Kirkwood had, apparently, shut off the water feature at some point and replaced it by incorporating large amounts of potting soil and numerous plants throughout the Work. According to Mason's Complaint, these changes violated her rights under the Visual Artist Rights Act ("VARA"), a legal provision that incorporates artists' moral rights to preserve the integrity of their creations into United States copyright law, although in a limited manner.

"Before the Sun Speaks" sculpture by Molly Mason, consisting of two sculpted stainless steel towers with glass and gold highlights standing in a pool of water
Photo by Kirkwood Community College

Our second report on the case in July of 2021 detailed some of the admissions and denials made by Kirkwood in its Answer to the Complaint. Overall, Kirkwood argued (1) that the Work was a work made for hire and is thus excluded from VARA's protections and (2) that even if it were protected by VARA, the changes that were made to the Work would not be a violation of VARA's protections.

Unfortunately for observers who favor definitive resolutions in copyright cases, the court never reached a decision on these questions. After the filing of the Answer, routine procedural steps and some back-and-forth motions practice characterized the case for the next year or so, including a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Kirkwood in early 2022. Ultimately, however, the case effectively ended when the court filed an Order on November 15, 2022 stating that it had learned of a settlement in the case. This was followed by a Joint Stipulation of Dismissal filed by the parties on December 1, 2022 and a final Order by the court on December 2 dismissing the case.