Australia Moves Forward With (Weakened) System To Have Artists Paid Multiple Times For Same Artwork

from the down-under-confusion dept

There are a few countries out there that have "artist resale rights," which make little sense and do a lot more to harm artists than help them. Earlier this year, we wrote about plans for Australia to implement such a right and Michael Scott alerts us to the news that a watered down version of the plan is moving forward. If you're unfamiliar with it, the concept is that even after an artist has sold a piece of artwork, such as a painting, if the owners later decide to sell it, they must give back a percentage of the sale price to the original artist. The (faulty) thinking on this is that poor, starving artists sell their paintings or sculptures or whatever for next to nothing, and it's only later, when they're famous, that they're actually worth anything -- but the artist will never get a cut of that value.

Of course, that's not true. In reality, if those earlier works are so valuable, so are many newer works as well -- which the artist can create and sell for much more than ever before. Meanwhile, the problem with an artist resale right is it actually decreases the incentive for anyone to buy the original artwork, knowing that they'll have to sell it for that much more before they can actually make a profit -- since they'll have to kick back fees to the artists. It adds an unnecessary tax that acts as friction in the art market. The Australian plan tries to limit at least some of this issue by only having the resale tax kick in after the second resale. But, of course, this just moves the unnecessary friction up a level, and doesn't change the thought process that goes into the buying decision. With any other product, once you sell it, you've sold it. It makes no sense to allow the original creator to retain a cut of any later sale. Imagine if that were the case with cars or houses as well? Who would ever think that was reasonable?

Filed Under: artists, australia, copyright, resale rights


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2009 @ 6:06am

    Tracking the transactions isn't that much of a problem, since the documentation that is required to prove the authenticity of the artworks (and their chain of custody) is already such an ingrained part of the art market.

    However, there's an emerging trend in European countries that have had these droit de suite laws for a really long time to pass the cost on to the buyers, when it's supposed to be paid out by the seller. This is, of course, not even slightly surprising.

    There are a couple more really interesting issues it brings up, too. The first is that it assumes the entirety of the art market involves a fairly small number of artists who will or have "made it" and the small number of very wealthy collectors who support them. Within a system like that, the process is a matter of peanuts and is likely to just be accepted. It's the overwhelmingly huge amount or art being made and sold outside that system where it really gets to be a problem, but the high dollar market participants assume that since the market outside of their own is beneath their notice, it doesn't exist.

    The other major problem is it creates the very same resting-on-laurels issue that we see in other creative/inventive markets. Frankly, early work (of the type that probably gets sold cheaply) is just not usually as good as more mature work. Those who keep producing are going to be able to make money just fine on the first sale as their work improves and increases in popularity.

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