Auction House Photographer in France Wins Lawsuit Against Artnet

A court of appeal in Paris has ordered online auction house artnet to pay damages of 764,412 Euros to auction house photographer Stéphane Briolant for violation of copyright relating to 6,758 of his images used alongside auction sales results in the artnet Price Database.

Briolant first sued for damages in 2010 with regard to photographs of furniture that were featured in the artnet Price Database, a widely used art trade tool that collates auction sale results from across the world. The lower court dismissed his claim, ruling that artnet was free to use images taken by professional photographers at auction houses in conjunction with sales results on the Price Database. Briolant appealed to the higher court, where his claim was upheld. A French competitor, Artprice S.A., was also ordered to pay a similar amount and like artnet to publish the decision on their website and in French art publications.

In a statement on their website, artnet say that Briolant is the only photographer who has ever claimed a copyright fee, and that the images are used only for the purposes of pricing. They ‘did not know or believe that copyright laws were applicable to reproductive photography for auction sales, all made in the standard salesroom procedure for lighting, camera position, and object position as dictated by the nature of the object and the given purpose of selling an object by reproducing it in the auction catalogue.’

artnet will appeal the decision. They believe that it threatens price transparency and could result in higher rates for subscribers to the Price Database, saying: ‘The current decision appears to artnet to be a political statement by a court that wants to extend systematic copyright protection to any photograph, whether technical or a true work of art, and with no consideration of the economical impact thereof.’

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