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The importance of recognizing law as a compass on how art is created, sold, collected, and distributed has never been more important than today. As a member of Sotheby’s Art Institute since 2007, graduate faculty Judith Prowda provides Master’s students with an insightful and rigorous curriculum for comprehending art law and its application across different careers and professional sectors. According to Prowda, there is not an aspect of the art market that is not somehow affected by the law.

Taking the lifecycle of a work of art, from the moment art is created there are immediate questions of copyrights and ownerships of intellectual property. Upon its entry to the primary market a work is sold for the first time, through a gallery or other point of sale. Later the art may be resold through a secondary market - a dealer or at auction. “At each stage along the way, there are legal issues,” Prowda says. An art business professional must understand the legal aspects of copies, copyright infringement, and forgeries; art entering museums and tax implications, or the legal frameworks in creating foundations and new business ventures.

Students leave the graduate program at Sotheby’s Institute with a wealth of knowledge, able to negotiate their own contracts and to navigate professional scenarios with legal and ethical implications. Yet, Judith says, there are alternatives the savvy professional might consider to settle disputes, such as mediation and arbitration. “Anyone who’s been involved in litigation can tell you how much it takes over their life.” Another advantage to settling out of court is avoiding lack of privacy for the artists, dealers, or galleries involved or implicated in a case. As Prowda says, “reputations can become compromised when cases go for long periods of time in litigation.”

As a pedagogical exercise she uses in the classroom, Prowda brings up a scenario of an artwork that may have been stolen by the Nazis during World War II and is currently possessed by a owner in good faith. Upon consigning with an auction house, the owner is confronted by a person whose family it was stolen from. Now there’s a dispute on who owns the property: the original owner, the heirs of the original owner, or the good faith purchaser, who currently owns it. Other scenarios are also modeled in Prowda’s classroom, often with guest appearances from colleagues who have litigated specific cases. restitution of art; pre-colonial works that were taken during a colonial era, and the restitution of those works back to their home countries. The legal landscape of the art world is ever-changing, with new developments and unprecedented legal scenarios emerging around digital art and ownership especially.


Judith B. Prowda is an attorney, mediator, and arbitrator focused on art law, copyright, entertainment and commercial law. She is a founding member of Stropheus Art Law, a collective of art law and business specialists who offer unbundled services to the art community. She is Past Chair of the Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Section of the NYS Bar Association and Co-Chair of the Fine Arts Committee and Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee and a member of the Art Law Committee of the NYC Bar. Recently, Judith participated in a small working group of lawyers who created the Court of Arbitration for Art (CAfA). She is a frequent speaker and has published extensively on issues related to art law and business.

Prowda is the author of Visual Arts and the Law: A Handbook for Professionals (Lund Humphries, 2013), The Perils of Selling Art at an Art Fair: Legal Issues in Title, Chapter in Art, Cultural Heritage and the Market: Ethical and Legal Issues (Springer, 2014) and The Art of Mediating Art Disputes: A Case for Mediation (chapter in Appraising Art: The Definitive Guide to Appraising Fine and Decorative Arts (Appraisers Association of America, 2013). Her law articles have appeared in numerous law reviews, journals and books and have garnered prestigious awards. She is a Member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of the Copyright Society of the USA.

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