Over the past decades, street art graffiti has conquered the world. You can find graffiti everywhere, from New York to London, Paris or Melbourne. Every city, big or small, has its own street artists who often create impressive works.

However, there are as many street gangs that do nothing more than vandalize public or private property with their initials or vulgar designs. When does street art graffiti become a crime?

Street art or mindless vandalism?

Many people walk by a huge graffiti without a glance, while others stop to admire the artist’s creation. Make no mistake, most of those who go out at night armed with cans and sprays see themselves as artists and this is their way of expressing themselves. Most of them have no intention of vandalizing a public or private property.

Graffiti artists live in a world of their own and there are veritable legends among them. There is no one more famous than the mysterious Banksy, whose creations sell for millions of dollars. A property owner waking up to discover an unmistakable Banksy on the wall of their house can only consider himself fortunate, as the value of the property rises instantaneously.

However, when you go to your store in the morning and find the walls covered in senseless drawings that’s always a huge problem. Other than being attracted by the graffiti on your property walls, most clients will tend to give your store a wide berth. This is why many Australian business owners pay a small fortune cleaning their walls of unwanted graffiti.

Is graffiti a criminal offence in Australia?

Painting graffiti on public or private property without permission from the owners is a criminal offence in Australia. In the eyes of the law, defacing private or public property is an illegal activity, no matter what your intentions were.

This should not be confused with urban art, where an artist is commissioned by a property owner to paint their walls, just for artistic purposes or as a marketing strategy.

Can you get a criminal record for painting graffiti?

All Australian states have implemented educational programs warning young people about the dangers of expressing themselves by spraying messages on someone else’s property. There are various penalties for street graffiti.

A first time offender might get away with an order to remove the offensive drawing at their own expense.

However, in addition to that the offender might be slapped with a fine or sentenced to jail. Vandalism carries a jail sentence of up to seven years.

Juvenile offenders, aged 12-17, might be sentenced to a term in a juvenile detention centre, while those over the age of 17 will be judged as adults.

Any type of sentence for vandalism will end up on the street artist’s criminal record and will affect their educational and employment perspective.

There are educational institutions that require a background check certificate before enrollment so their access to such schools will be barred, all thanks to a stupid graffiti they did when they were 16 and felt bored with their lives.

Tip: If you feel the need to express yourself by painting on the walls, do it on the walls of your own house or at least get the owner’s permission in writing before getting your spray cans ready. 

About the Author

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Mirko Humbert

Mirko Humbert is the editor-in-chief and main author of Designer Daily and Typography Daily. He is also a graphic designer and the founder of WP Expert.