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An Art + Object auction.  Image courtesy of Art + Object.

Things

An Art + Object auction. Image courtesy of Art + Object.

Mark Amery welcomes the first adoption by an auction house of a copyright system requiring payment for the reproduction of works of art by visual artists.

Images have become conversational currency online. Most of us forget about taking our phone out to a gallery and snapping art photos to share on social media. Once frowned upon, it is now widely welcomed by galleries to help with promotion – as long as, they point out, it is not for commercial purposes.

This last point is important. Art is attractive and increasingly easy to steal bait in digital reproduction. How commercial use is defined and monitored is increasingly vital. It’s easy to assume that artists are happy to see their work spread like a happy virus, but think about how you might feel if your life’s work struggled to pay the rent. The magnetism of the visual image goes directly to the value of an artist. It’s part of the makeup of their revenue stream. If you’re doing more than spreading love, be careful.

Like writers, filmmakers or musicians, as copyright holders, artists have the legal right to be solicited – and paid if requested – for the commercial use of their works. So it’s a big deal that, just before Christmas, major auction house Art + Object was the first to sign up to a Copyright Licensing New Zealand (CLNZ) program that asks those who sell on the secondary market to pay a royalty when a CLNZ-registered artist’s work is reproduced in these large glossy catalogs, newspaper advertisements and elsewhere.

It’s been long overdue. There are similar programs in the United States, Canada and most of Europe. In Australia, it has been two decades since an agreement with major auction houses was reached on image license fees. It will be interesting to see what happens next. Ideally, art sellers will appreciate knowing that some of the money goes to the artists (even if the small fee is passed on to them), seeing Art + Object’s market share increase and others houses are realizing they need to follow suit. If the Big Three auction houses joined CLNZ adviser Caroline Stone estimates $500,000 a year would accrue to artists.

READ MORE:
* Art resale prices are exploding, why don’t artists see any profit?
* For the love of art: at the heart of New Zealand’s million-dollar art scene
* Regulating resale royalties is key to helping hard-working artists

This situation is just one example of how visual artists struggle in Aotearoa’s small artistic ecology to be treated fairly, with a lack of agreed standards in place across the sector. For 25 years, CLNZ handled licensing on behalf of authors and publishers, but it wasn’t until 2018 that it expanded its services to visual artists. Visual artists have no equivalent APRA, Playmarket or Music Commission, providing them with legal advice and other services. Australia has three such organisations. A collection of fees and charges would here provide a financial basis for such an organization.

The reproduction of an auction house is clearly a commercial use, but in Australia it took an artist threatening to take legal action against an auction house to set up a system. It would be nice to think that the auction houses here can do better. However, change begins with the collective and courageous work of respected artists, the very ones everyone says they love. The signing of Art + Object came on the heels of historic highs in the art market in November and the creation of Equity for Artists, a group of leading artists Judy Darragh, Dane Mitchell and Reuben Paterson who campaign for resale royalties and image licensing in the secondary art market.

Art + Object’s Burr Tatham Collection auction at Tamaki Makaurau in November was, as Nadine Rubin Nathan noted on Things the most profitable local art auction of all time, with 32 artist sale price records. The Guardian reported artist Ayesha Green’s surprise to see one of her paintings fetch $48,000, $29,000 more than the artist, still in her 30s, had originally sold it a year earlier. Equity for Art sparked greater concern from artists on Instagram, noting that while two Tåmaki Makaurau auction houses received more than $2.6 million in commission from sales in November, artists got nothing. received.

Meanwhile, it looks like the government’s hand will be forced to finally implement a resale royalty system. In October, a free trade agreement with the UK was announced. The tentative agreement (still under final negotiation) will not only see copyright here extended from 50 to 70 years after death, to bring it into line with the UK, but will require both parties are adopting similar resale rights regimes. The UK adopted one in 2006. We have a lot to catch up on.

Mark Amery is a Dominion Post collaborating art editor.

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