I am a graffiti artist. Is there any law I need to be aware of?

Graffiti

Graffiti is something that is regarded as an art form for those people undertaking in it but is also regarded by members of the general public as a nuisance, often associated with anti-social behaviour and gang culture.

Often graffiti artists are able to showcase their work on specially made structures provided for by local businesses and local governments.

However, if you are a graffiti artist and you wish to make your work available to the public on public or private property then there is various pieces of legislation which you must be aware of.

Definition of Graffiti

Within the definition of graffiti the following are included

  • Drawings
  • Scribbles
  • Messages or tags

These must be painted, written, sprayed or etched onto walls or other surfaces.

Criminal Damage Act 1971

Section 6 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 provides for offences in relation to graffiti. Someone caught doing graffiti will be guilty of a criminal act and can be fined up to £5,000 if the damage they have caused is less than £5,000. Alternatively they may be given a community service order rather than a fine which is often the case in relation to young offenders.

If the cost of the damage is over £5,000 then the case will be referred to the Crown Court which has the scope for tougher sentences.

Section 6 of the Criminal Damage Act is also used for searches of people’s homes in very serious cases which includes searching computer records. Often it is the case that there will be photographic evidence of the graffiti undertaken by the perpetrator in their own home.

Currently the Criminal Damage Act does not give stop and search powers meaning that people stopped who have been thought to have been carrying out graffiti cannot be searched for spray cans and such like.

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005

Fixed Penalty Notices

The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 as amended by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 gives local authorities the power to issue fixed penalty notice for anyone caught doing graffiti.

While the individual is subject to the fixed penalty notice no criminal proceedings can be brought against him for 14 days after he has become subject to the notice or if he pays the notice.

The Clean Neighbourhoods Act specifies the usual fixed penalty for this offence to be £75. The local authority is able to specify a higher or lower penalty however if it deems it to be necessary.

Failure to comply with the fixed penalty notice will result in a criminal sanction.

Tagging

What is meant by Tagging?

Tagging is a form of graffiti which often carries the biggest stigma and will often be seen as anti-social by most communities. It occurs when an artist stamps a signature in a stylised way onto a piece of property effectively claiming it as their own. Often tagging is used by gangs and in many cases it is often a sign that the area may be gang territory.

Consequently there are many schemes in relation to tagging to try and control and stop the problem.

The Home Office launched a campaign called “Name that Tag” in London, Liverpool and Manchester which provided for rewards of £500 provided to anyone who can give information concerning consistent offenders.

There is also a national database of tags which is run by the British Transport Police and it is often the case that local authorities have their own databases of tags often seen within their locality.

As an artist is there anywhere I can do it legally?

Free Walls

Many local councils within the UK provide spaces for graffiti artists to produce their artwork legally. In order to find out about this and the locations within your community you should contact your local authority.

Is there any other legislation in relation to graffiti?

Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003

The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 introduced powers for local councils to punish offenders and to help them clear up illegal graffiti.

The powers under the Act include the following:

  • Local authorities have the power to give clean-up notices to owners of street furniture for example phone boxes if they have graffiti on them. The notice will state that if the property is not cleaned within 28 days the local authority will be able to remove the graffiti themselves charging the owner for this service
  • The Act also makes it an offence to sell spray paint to people under the age of 16. It is the duty of shopkeepers to prove that they took reasonable steps to determine the age of the person. If they did not do this they can be fined up to £2,500.