Artist’s Resale Right: A small share has a big impact

Artist’s Resale Right: A small share has a big impact

On March 4, 2021 the International Authors Forum (IAF) hosted a panel discussion on the artist’s resale right. Panelists from Canada, UK, Sweden, Uganda, and USA shared how the resale right works (or doesn’t work) in their countries.

The Artist’s Resale Right (ARR) entitles visual artists to a earn a royalty each time their work is resold through an auction house or in many jurisdictions, a gallery. The royalty is a small percentage, typically 3-5%, of the resale price. The rate varies somewhat from country to country and is applied to the sale price of the work (but is often capped at $50,000). The resale right is currently recognized in over 80 countries and is an optional provision of the Berne Convention. It is administered reciprocally between countries that recognize the resale royalty.

This can be a significant source of income for a visual artist or the artist’s estate. Without a resale right, the artist receives no compensation for the appreciation in value of the work after the initial sale. Instead, the value now accrues solely to auction houses, art dealers,museums and private collectors.

Data from the UK DACS #FairShareForArtists campaign clearly demonstrated the benefits to artists with distribution of £95 million in resale royalties since 2006. The median monthly payment to artists is £129.

“Even modest payments are extremely valuable to help them cover the costs associated with being an artist,” said Reema Selhi of DACS. “This is what I like to call the virtuous circle, because ultimately artist’s resale right royalties get invested back into the creative economy.”

Janet Hicks, Vice President at Artist Rights Society, discussed how the USA does not have a resale right, despite being one of the largest art markets in the world. She shared findings of a March 2021 study by Americans for the Arts showing the severe impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on artist/creative workers. 95% of artists reported a loss of income, 63% became fully unemployed, and 79% had a “dramatic decrease” in creative work commissions.

The inequity between artists and art dealers has never been more pronounced. During the pandemic, Sotheby’s made $5 billion and Christie’s sales were $4.4 billion. Art auction houses take a 15-25% fee depending on the sale price. The artists earned nothing. A 2017 study by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) found that an artists resale right has no negative impact on arts markets.

Janet recapped the history and ongoing effort to enact an artist’s resale right in the US:

  • 2011 Equity for Visual Artists Act
  • 2013 US Copyright Office Resale Royalty Right report supporting legislation
  • 2015-2018 American Royalties Too Act introduced in both the House and Senate but was never voted

In 2021 the American Royalties Too (ART) Act is planned to be re-introduced with both Democratic and Republican co-sponsors (5% on resales over $5000; capped at $50,000). Additionally, the US has a new Register of Copyrights, Shira Perlmutter who has written favorably about the resale right in the past. So we remain hopeful this time the ART Act will be passed into law granting a fair share to American visual artists and enabling reciprocity worldwide.

Many thanks to the IAF and John Degen for hosting the discussion and to the panelists.

Watch the webinar recording here. (the US discussion starts at 40:24)