2013-11-06 / Features

Judge Extends 5 Pointz Restraining Order

By Liz Goff

A Federal judge last week extended the temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing the demolition of the 5 Pointz building in Long Island City until both sides in an ongoing lawsuit time to prepare their case.

Federal District Judge Frederic Block must ultimately decide if graffiti art sprayed on the warehouse complex at 45-46 Davis Street is “transitory or permanent.”

Lawyers for the graffiti artists appeared in Brooklyn Federal Court on October 17 where they argued the building owners have violated the federal Visual Artists Rights Act and copyright law (VARA). Attorneys for the owners countered the claim by offering information posted on the 5 Pointz website that shows the artists have covered up their own work to make space for new artwork, thereby making the artwork transitory.

The artist’s attorneys claimed their clients never signed a release with G&M Realty or building owner David Wolkoff and were never paid for their artwork, so they filed suit to retain all copyrights to the graffiti art on the building.

The Wolkoff family, who has owned the building for 40-plus years, obtained unanimous approval last month from the City Council to demolish the 5 Pointz building – a maze of warehouses in the heart of Long Island City – to make way for two towers, 41-and-47-feet –tall, that will include 12,000-square-feet of artist studio and gallery space, give 5 Pointz curator Jonathan Cohen the opportunity to create artwork on 19,000-square-feet of art panels and walls along Davis Street and guarantees available space for local artists at reasonable rents.

In an agreement hammered out by City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, the owners have also consented to more than double the amount of affordable housing units in the new development and have agreed that all construction on the project will be performed by union workers.

The artists’ VARA challenge was filed just days after the City Council gave final approval to the owners to demolish the building. The federal action is the first in the nation’s history to be filed by graffiti artists seeking legal action to protect their artwork.

The extension gives the owner and the graffiti time to gather witnesses who will face cross-examination in the matter.

Under the terms of the TRO, he artists are prohibited from painting on the walls of the 200,000-square-foot complex and the owners must halt all demolition-related activities at the site.

Block scheduled a hearing in Brooklyn Federal Court for earlier today on the artists’ motion for a preliminary injunction, where he will address the artists’ claim that the property owners violated the initial TRO by allowing construction workers to walk through the complex on October 26 and October 28.

The construction workers were on the site before the initial TRO expired which, according to federal law, extended through 5 p.m. on October 28.

If Block does not sign the injunction and the building is demolished, the artists will seek financial compensation claiming the new development violates the Visual Artists Rights Act.

The building owner has been hoping to demolish the warehouse complex by the end of the year.

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