Artist Rights

This past week a federal appeals court stripped Californian visual artists of the right to collect royalties from resales of their work. There is no global consensus on royalty rights for artists, as they differ all over the world. I believe however that artists have the right to benefit from the resale of their work.

Actors get royalties from films and TV shows. Authors often get royalties from their books. In this case, it depends on the contract, for sometimes publishers just buy their books outright and refuse them royalties. Many of the top visual artists are represented by galleries that help the artists career by selling their art and being their consigliere. In these relationships, the gallerist takes a percentage of the artist’s royalties, just like an agent does for actors.

When an artist sells one of their pieces to a museum or a collector, they simultaneously hand over ownership. This is why buying art is thought of as an investment. A collector buys a piece and is able to sell it later for profit. It is an industry with little regulation to pricing, and it often follows the economics 101 law of price and demand.

Regardless of ownership, I believe that the artist should always get cut of every sale. Being able to create collectible art is a gift. We should be applauding visual artists by giving them lifetime royalties just as we do for actors. The difference in artistic medium does not matter. We should protect the rights of all artists.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Pointsandfigures

    Do I hear blockchain as a solution to this particular problem? Totally possible if someone can execute on it. I don’t disagree with you-but why is it the way it is? Is it because art isn’t centralized like television networks, record companies and movie studios? Obviously, the actors and the studios have an economic incentive to extract value out of reprints, re-broadcasts etc.I can see the logic behind this: If I buy an artists work, I own the asset. I shouldn’t have to give the artist a cut when I resell it. Same as if I buy a car and resell it. However, there is a big difference if I make a copy and resell it.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Absolutely blockchain is coming to the art world sooner than later.

  2. Steven Kane

    100% agree. and i’m not sure i even know – let alone understand- any arguments against this (other than galleries, museums and collectors wanting to not pay royalties.) as far as I can tell, every other professional artist is entitled to collect ongoing revenues from their works. film and video makers, actors, directors, writers, musicians, composers, apparel designers, etc. why this bias against fine artists?separately, i’m not sure why artists don’t simply copyright their works and then refuse to assign the copyright when a work changes hands. instead of an acquisition, the transaction is a license, continuously renewable upon payment of royalties, and transferable as long as the new “owner” signs off on the royalty/copyright terms. easy peasy?for whatever reasons, good and bad, there has been an assault on intellectual property rights for the last several decades. i know i’m in the minority (at least amongst my friends!) but imho, it’s been a tragically successful crusade.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I am not sure why. My guess is the first transaction creates ownership and that is what makes this different.

      1. Steven Kane

        guessing, but probably has roots in that so many fine artists were/are penniless beggars, eager for any validation and a hot meal. so gallery owners and patrons were able to insist that acquisitions of works were once and done.

        1. Pranay Srinivasan

          Maybe THIS is where the blockchain can help with authenticity, ownership trail and payments

    2. LE

      separately, i’m not sure why artists don’t simply copyright their works and then refuse to assign the copyright when a work changes hands.Hard to get by an established industry convention w/o great skill. [1]That, like anything else, is a point of negotiation. My guess is that given the way art (of certain types) doesn’t change hands (hard to sell and a sellers market) and there is more supply than demand and so that could be a deal point not worth sticking to. Of course if someone really wants the art then you can probably make that demand just like anything else. But you’d have to know what you are doing negotiation wise in order to pull that off. How many artists can do that? My guess is they cave easily just a guess (I don’t buy art and have no clue but that is my take my sister was an artist btw..)And part of what you are buying is actually the fact that nobody else can own or reproduce it I think. That is part of the allure. Along the same lines in theory you might be able to buy absolute rights to music if you paid enough money. I mean let’s say a major musical artist had just written a great song and it hadn’t been put in whatever system that keeps track of and pays for music (say ASCAP). So Jeff Bezos (worth $150b) comes along and says “I want that song and only I own that song”. Then he gives you $100 million or whatever. So you say ‘oh ok I’ll do that’. At that point it will no longer be available anywhere. (Kind of what happens with scores for movies let’s say).More about art copyrighting:…[1] I had a real estate closing the other day. The title company put a number on my side of the ledger that was generally something that is the buyer’s responsibility to pay for. Title clerk then said to me ‘if you want the seller to pay you can take it up at the closing table’. Meaning that it would by default remain on the buyer side. I said to her ‘no put it on the seller side and let them argue with me to take it off!’. She immediately did that. So now it becomes just a tad harder for them. (Not a major amount I did it pretty much for fun..)

  3. Pranay Srinivasan

    It also gives them a piece of the upside which is actually directly BECAUSE of their work.Would probably stop the whole “artist not recognized in their own time and died a pauper” trope which is great to read about but is shitty to live through.Kind of like a fired founder within the first 18 mo and loses their vesting on a company that ultimately goes public and makes VCs a shit ton of money.

  4. JLM

    .If you are dealing with the original artist at the time of the painting, there is an interesting angle as it relates to prints. It is not uncommon for an artist to retain the right to produce, market, and sell prints of the picture.Many times the number of prints are limited.Who got royalties for actors? Ronald Reagan when he was the President of the Screen Actors Guild. It cost him his acting career, but things turned out OK for him.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…