The copyright act provides creates an additional bundle of rights to the author of a “work of visual art”. The Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA).
First, the protection only applies to a narrowly defined group, i.e., a painting, drawing, print or sculpture existing as a single work or in a limited edition of no more than 200 copies that are signed and consecutively numbered. For sculpture, the series of works must bear the signatory mark of the author. A still photographic image produced for exhibition purposes only or a limited edition of no more than 200 copies, again signed and consecutively numbered.
Note that the visual art must not have been created as a “work for hire”. Therefore be careful what you sign in accepting a commission!
The added rights give the author limited powers over the work even after it has been sold.
The author retains the right to attribution, i.e., he/she can always require that he/she identified as the author.
The author retains the right prevent intentional distortion, mutilation or other modification that would be “prejudicial” to the artist honor or reputation.
Also if the work is “of recognized stature” (determined with expert testimony) the artist can prevent the destruction of the work
Note that the artist can waive these rights in writing. The waiver of rights must be specific, however. Also, the rights exist only for the life of the author. (The term of a copyright is typically the life of the author plus 70 years).