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Jason Wulf was a well-known graffiti artist in Queens, NY who was killed at the age of 42, electrocuted by the third rail in a Brooklyn subway station. Jason’s death garnered significant media attention. Others in the graffiti community took advantage of that media attention and began selling copies of his graffiti tags and other artwork to make money, without the permission of the Wulf family. This was particularly upsetting for the Wulf family, who did not even have enough money to purchase a headstone for Jason. That is when Jason’s sister, Christina, approached Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (VLA), an organization that connects struggling artists with law firms for pro bono legal representation. Christina was seeking assistance in obtaining copyright protection for Jason’s works. VLA connected Christina to Jenner & Block, and the firm represented her in obtaining copyright registrations for Jason’s artwork.
First, the team had to navigate New York Surrogate’s Court and close out Jason’s estate. Next, they facilitated the transfer of the copyrights in Jason’s works from Jason’s parents to Christina, which was accomplished through informal mediation between Christina and her parents. Once Christina obtained the right to register Jason’s copyrights, the team selected the right pieces from Jason’s extensive collection of work for which to seek registration – they needed pieces that were broad enough to give Christina the most protection, but artistic enough to be copyrightable. The area of graffiti as copyrightable artwork is a “hot” area in intellectual property law, and the team dug deep into recent case law and academic literature when choosing the pieces.
On April 29, 2015, Christina received copyright registrations for three of Jason’s pieces of artwork, giving her piece of mind, as well as great pride around her brother’s legacy. The team consisted of Partner Andrew H. Bart, Associate Alison I. Stein, and former associate Ava McAlpin. Partner Steven R. Englund provided invaluable assistance as well.