Resale royalties for visual artists

The US Copyright Office is calling for public comment on the question of whether federal copyright law should be changed to provide that painters and sculptors retain a financial interest in the resale of their works.

Resale royalties for visual artists

Here's one example of how the resale royalty might apply: artist sells a painting, either directly or through a gallery, to a collector for $1000; some years later, the collector, through an auction house, sells that same painting to another collector for $100,000; at a resale royalty rate of 7%, the artist would be entitled to $7000.

The Copyright Office has studied the question before. Twenty years ago it published a report which recommended against establishing a federal resale royalty.

Though a resale royalty, or droit de suite, is common in Europe, the purposes for copyright in America are sufficiently different, and restraints on alienation of property are so disfavored, the Copyright Office reasoned, that the US Congress should consider other means of protecting visual artists.

One such alternative listed in the 1992 report: a royalty payable by a gallery or museum on the public exhibition of an artist's work. This makes more sense to me, as it taxes or attaches to something other than the work itself as an object; presumably a public exhibition royalty could be implemented by clarifying or amplifying the display right already inherent in copyright, and needn't do violence to the first sale doctrine.

I'm not sure what's driving the Copyright Office's attention back to the subject, though it appears there are two bills in the current (soon to disband) Congress proposing to establish a resale royalty.

Photo is of Thomas Doughty's painting, "In the Catskills."


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