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Cheffins v. Stewart

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
825 F.3d 588 (2016)


Simon Cheffins and Gregory Jones (plaintiffs) bought a used school bus and transformed it into a replica of a sixteenth-century Spanish galleon called La Contessa. The replica included extensive wooden decking and a mast. The plaintiffs first assembled the replica at the site of the Burning Man Festival, an art festival held in Nevada each year. After the bus’s transformation into La Contessa, the bus remained mobile. It was used to transport people around the Burning Man festival. It was also used as a venue for concerts and some weddings. La Contessa made an appearance at three Burning Man Festivals. Between festivals, it was stored on a tract of land in Nevada. Initially, this land was held in life estate by Joan Grant. However, Grant abandoned her life estate in the land, and Michael Stewart (defendant) took possession of the land. La Contessa remained on Stewart’s land for approximately one year. Then Stewart burned off La Contessa’s wooden structures and had a scrap metal dealer haul away the underlying bus. The plaintiffs sued Stewart for violating the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), 17 U.S.C. § 106A, alleging that Stewart illegally destroyed a protected work of visual art. The district court held that La Contessa was a work of applied art rather than a work of visual art. Because works of applied art are not eligible for protection under VARA, the district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ VARA claim. The plaintiffs appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (O’Scannlain, J.)

Concurrence (McKeown, J.)

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