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Did Banksy break the law?

Banksy’s audacious stunt made headlines around the world. But did the famous street artist break the law?  When Banksy auctioned off and then damaged the infamous painting of his ‘girl with balloon’, was he breaking the law?

Salome Verrell, Senior Lecturer at The University of Law, has been taking a look at the case and shares her view as an experienced solicitor.

“It seems Banksy is not content with alleged criminal damage of buildings but now has apparently criminally damaged someone else’s painting,” said Salome.

“Under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 S57(2): A sale by auction is complete when the auctioneer announces its completion by the fall of the hammer, or in other customary manner; and until the announcement is made any bidder may retract his bid.

“When Banksy shredded the painting, he was damaging someone else’s property, and he did so intentionally and knowing that it belonged to someone else.”

Salome explained that the Criminal Damage Act 1971 s. 1 Destroying or damaging property, states:

(1)A person who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another intending to destroy or damage any such property or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged shall be guilty of an offence.

“The painting belonged to the highest bidder because the hammer had gone down and the sale had ended before the shredding began.  Therefore at the time of shredding, the painting belonged to someone other than Banksy and he knew that since he was selling it at auction, and he intended to destroy it knowing it belonged to someone else.

“It could however be said that he actually improved (or increased the value) of the piece, and that (unknown to the buyer) it was a dynamic and evolving piece of art.  If I buy a house where the carpets are old and tatty, and then prior to moving in the original owner fits new carpets, does the same apply?

“The lady who bought the painting was happy with the result. It would be interesting if she had decided she didn’t want the piece in the end!, added Salome.

“Damage is a matter of fact and degree in each case.  If the piece itself is damaged by shredding this does seem to fit the definition of ‘damage’ within the Act, but the increase in value may throw this into doubt.

“However, just like his antics when spray painting someone’s exterior walls, without a loser, that is, someone to make a complaint to the authorities, it seems Banksy will continue to get away with breaking the law, in the name of art.

“I liked the artistic value of what he did in shredding the painting but it is interesting that Banksy tends to use someone else’s property to make his artistic statements. It is also interesting that so far Banksy has got away with breaking the law.  I don’t think most people who aren’t called Banksy would get away with such behaviour.”

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