Could Art Dealers Become Subject to Royalty Payments?

Art Royalty Copyright

If proponents of legislation get their way, some living artists may be able to get paid more than once for their work. I first became familiar with the effort through Clayton Pennington’s editorial in the February Maine Antiques Digest.

Living visual artists could also financially when a work is sold, and when it’s resold. I was thinking about the topic the same day as I read the editorial while trying to come up with an estimate of how much dealers, owners and auction houses might have made off a specific work by a living artist after its creation in 1960. The answer is of course many times more than the artist made, and in fact the fees collected during one auction could easily exceed an original purchase price.

If enacted the legislation would add seven percent to a work by a living artist that in excess of a $10,000 purchase price, half would go to the artist, and half into a fund for non-profit museum purchases of works by living artists. California already has a similar requirement (a reader wrote us to advise however the California act known as the california Resale Royalty Act had been declared unconstitutional and is pending appeal).

This of course brings to mind important questions such as if this is such a good idea, why wouldn’t it apply to all artists? It would certainly seem the artists not selling works for $10,000 or more are in more need of the cash flow (California’s upper limit is only $1,000). Why would it apply only to work by living artists? Copyright law extends beyond the life of an artist. Wouldn’t this present a disadvantage in the marketplace for works by living artists? (maybe this could be a benefit to the antiques industry). Could it apply to furniture? After all much art today selling for more than $10,000 is the result of some sort of production process, and some furniture is purely artistic.

It all may become too complicated, and seems to be the result of efforts on behalf of established artists to help themselves.

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