Artist resale rights gain support in US Congress
Royalty bill could be passed by the end of the year, or become part of copyright bill
By Julia Halperin. Web only
Published online: 16 July 2014
A bill that would bring droit de suite, also known as artist resale royalty rights, to the US is gaining momentum in Congress. The bill has gained six co-sponsors in the past three weeks, including the representatives Sam Farr of California and Janice Schakowsky of Illinois. At a hearing yesterday, 15 July, in Washington, DC, experts including Karyn Temple Claggett, the director of policy and international affairs for the US copyright office, testified in support of the bill.
The chairman of the committee considering the royalty, the Republican Howard Coble of North Carolina, also said at the start of the hearing that he was “not uncomfortable with the concept of a resale royalty”.
Under the current system, “it is the purchaser, not the artist, who benefits whenever the value of the artist’s work increases”, said the bill’s lead sponsor, congressman Jerrold Nadler, in his opening statement. The American Royalties Too Act (ART for short) would give visual artists 5% of the resale price if their work resells at auction for more than $5,000.
The bill, which was introduced to Congress in February, caps the royalty at $35,000. A slightly different version that offered artists a larger royalty was introduced in 2011 but failed to attract a single co-sponsor. Today, however, more than 50 countries worldwide have adopted a similar resale royalty, including the UK and the European Union. During her testimony, Claggett called the issue of resale royalty rights one “of fundamental fairness”.
“We’re optimistic—the pace over the past month seems to have picked up,” says Ted Feder, the president of the Artists Rights Society and a longtime supporter of the bill, who was present at the hearing. He hopes the royalty will pass before the end of the year, but says that it is likely to be rolled into a larger copyright bill due to come before Congress next year.
However, the passage of the royalty is hardly a foregone conclusion. Opponents say the bill unfairly targets auction houses, benefits only the wealthiest artists and could permanently hinder the art market. Christie’s and Sotheby’s have spent around $1m in legal and lobbying efforts to fight the bill, according to The New York Times, and Sotheby’s has retained the high-powered lobbying firm the Podesta Group to represent its interests. “I think the effects [of the lobbyists] remain to be seen,” Feder says. “I think they are guarding their hand. They are probably doing some lobbying in the corridors.”
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