Art world to debate global treaty on artists’ royalties

An international conference due to be held in Geneva on Friday (28 April) could pave the way for a global roll-out of the controversial Artist’s Resale Right (ARR).

Organised by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), the conference will see policy makers, artists, collective management organisations, academics, gallerists and auction houses gather to debate the effectiveness of the ARR to increase artists’ incomes. Attendees will discuss the potential for a future multi-national treaty to level the playing field in the international art market. Currently, the ARR applies sporadically throughout the world.

Derived from a European Directive, the ARR was implemented in the UK in 2006. It entitles creators of original artworks to a royalty each time one of their works is sold on the secondary art market through a gallerist, auction house or dealer for the sterling equivalent of €1000. Entitlement to the royalty lasts for as long as the copyright on the creators’ works so that their estates continue to receive payments for up to 70 years after their deaths.

The ARR is not without controversy. Critics argue that it deters art sales in the UK by attracting buyers to locations where the right does not apply, such as New York and Hong Kong. Erika Bochereau, the secretary General of CINOA, the international confederation of art and antique dealer associations, regards the ARR as damaging to the interests of the very artists it seeks to protect. “We do not think that it helps artists and it jeopardizes the important role of a dealer to promote artists by adding an additional charge”, she said.

Supporters of the ARR contend that it is the most significant new right for visual artists and gives them an ongoing stake in the value of their work. Leading the campaign to extend the ARR worldwide is the International Confederation of Authors and Composers (CISAC). CISAC director general, Gadi Oron, says “there is such strong support for it from the artist community and from a growing number of governments around the world”.

With the onset of Brexit, our art law specialists expect the issue of ARR to be thrust into the limelight once again. On the one hand, art dealers and gallerists might push for a renegotiation of the ARR, which is seen to disadvantage London in the global art market. On the other, creators are unlikely to stomach a cut to their earning potential.
The successful introduction of a global treaty to enforce the ARR worldwide would essentially end the debate and level the playing field in the global art market.

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