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Who owns the street art around Dismaland?

Since Dismaland came to Weston-super-Mare, a lot of street art has appeared nearby. Putting aside the question of: 'is it art or is it graffiti?' it had not been established who legally owned the work until this month. The High Court decided that a valuable work by Banksy painted on the outside of an amusement arcade belonged to the landlord and not to the tenant of a long commercial lease.

Banksy painted a work called 'Art Buff' on the wall of an amusement arcade in Folkestone called 'Dreamland'. Dreamland held a 20 year commercial lease of the arcade which included the usual obligations to keep the building in a good condition. The lease also stated that Dreamland must repaint the walls to the arcade every 4 years.

Shortly after it was painted, Dreamland decided to cut out the section of wall that held Banky's work and shipped it off to America to be auctioned. Dreamland repaired the wall to the arcade and made good any damage. The owners of the arcade were not happy at all when they found out what Dreamland had done and even less happy when the work was valued at £470,000!

The owners of the arcade transferred their claim to the Creative Foundation to pursue the matter in Court. The Creative Foundation issued court proceedings to stop the auction taking place and for the work be returned to them.

Dreamland argued that by cutting out the section of wall containing Banksy's work they were simply keeping the arcade in a good condition. They argued that once removed, a term in the lease should imply that they owned this section of wall.

The Judge accepted that street art (even by famous artists such as Banksy) could constitute disrepair for legal purposes. However, the Judge disagreed with Dreamland.

Cutting out the section of wall and replacing it was not a reasonable method of repair. More reasonable approaches would have been to paint over the work or remove the paint with chemicals. In addition, there was a term in the lease specifically preventing Dreamland from injuring or maiming the walls.

Once the section of wall had been removed, it could not be said to belong to Dreamland. The default position is that all parts of a building belong to the landlord. The value of the wall was a very significant factor and the landlord had the right to the benefit of this windfall.

Street art is a recent phenomenon so the law is catching up. It is no surprise that property owners want to argue about the ownership of these expensive works when they could be worth more than the buildings they are painted on!

If you would like to talk to someone about Commercial or Residential Landlord and Tenant matters please contact James Murray of Wards Solicitors 01934 413535.

Case reference: Creative Foundation -v- Dreamland Leisure Ltd and others [2015]

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