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

Graffiti

Graffiti is sometimes regarded as an art form by those doing it, but by members of the general public it is often seen as a nuisance, frequently associated with anti-social behaviour and gang culture. It is also costly to get rid of: recent estimates put the clean-up costs for graffiti in the UK at more than £1bn.

Often graffiti artists can 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, there are various pieces of legislation you should be aware of.

Definition of graffiti

Definitions of graffiti include:

  • drawings;
  • scribbles;
  • messages or tags.

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

Criminal Damage Act 1971

If you’re caught doing graffiti, you will be guilty of a criminal offence under s1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 (CDA 1971). Sentences for graffiti range from a conditional discharge from the magistrates’ court for minor damage, to up to 10 years imprisonment by the Crown Court where the damage caused is more than £10,000. Alternatively, you may be given a fine or a community service order – often the case in relation to young offenders.

Under s 6 of CDA 1971, police have the power to search the homes of suspected graffiti artists in serious cases, to look for and seize articles which could be used to damage someone else’s property.

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005

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

The usual fixed penalty for this offence under CNEA 2005 is £75. The local authority can specify a higher or lower penalty however, if it deems it necessary.

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

Public Order Act 1986

If the graffiti includes words or images which could, for example, incite racial hatred, an offence will have been committed under the Public Order Act 1986, s 18. This carries a maximum jail term of seven years.

Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003

Powers for local councils to punish offenders and help them clear up illegal graffiti were introduced by ASBA 2003.

The Act gives local authorities the power to hand out clean-up notices to owners of graffiti covered surfaces. The notice will state that if the property is not cleaned within 28 days, the local authority will be able to remove the graffiti itself and charge the owner for doing this.

It is also an offence under ASBA 2003 to sell spray paint to people under the age of 16. It is the duty of shopkeepers to prove they took reasonable steps to determine the age of the person. If they did not do this, they can be fined.

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 a sign that the area may be gang territory. Consequently, there are many schemes in relation to tagging to try and stop the problem.

The Home Office launched a campaign called ‘Name that Tag’ in a number of UK cities which provided rewards of £500 to anyone who could name persistent offenders. Paying people who inform on taggers, leading to their conviction, has been taken up by a number of police forces since.

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. To find out about this and the locations within your community you should contact your local authority.