For numberless generations, jurisprudes waged total war in the

conflict among textualism, intentionalism, and purposivism.

Textualists insisted that courts must interpret statutes based on the

meaning of their text, intentionalists insisted on the intention of the

legislature, and purposivists insisted on the purpose of the statute.

Eventually, textualism prevailed. Courts universally recognize

that they are obligated to interpret statutes in light of their text, or

at least pretend that the text of the statute determined their

interpretation. And the few remaining heretics are swiftly identified

and corrected by their superiors. As Justice Kagan famously

observed, “We’re all textualists now.” Whether you like it or not.

But what are the practical implications of textualism? Does it

always reach the “right” result? And when it produces idiosyncratic

results, what should courts do with them?

This essay provides a textualist interpretation of a relatively

obscure statute, the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990. It observes

that the most plausible textualist interpretation of the statute is the

opposite of the statute’s obvious intention and purpose. And it asks

whether that is a problem, something we should celebrate, or

something we should just accept as an inevitable consequence of

statutory interpretation.

Document Type


Publication Date



Notes/Citation Information

Brian L. Frye, A Textualist Interpretation of the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, 19 Colo. Tech. L.J. 365 (2021).


To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.