Royalties For Art Resale Adds to Copyright Debate

Bill RosenblattIn March, US Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ed Markey and Congressman Jerrold Nadler introduced legislation they call the American Royalties Too Act of 2014, or the ART Act, as it’s known, which would provide for a controversial resale royalty in the US art market.

Painter Frank Stella has praised the effort, saying that today, any benefits derived from appreciation in the later sale of artists’ works never accrue to the artist, but only entirely to collectors, auction houses, and galleries.

Detractors say the cost and the work related to collecting any such royalties would drive auction houses and art dealers from doing business in the US.

In this age of media abundance, copyright and digital media authority Bill Rosenblatt wonders whether the resale royalty is a wise way for artists and the art world to cope with change.

“Visual artworks make up an unusual, lesser-known nook and cranny of the copyright world. When you think of copyright, you think about books, obviously, as well as music, video, films, games, video games– things that are very, very easy to reproduce with perfect fidelity nowadays. Visual artworks are not easy to reproduce. They are meant to be unique or mostly unique,” he tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally

“In the future, though, the uniqueness of visual artworks will be diminished by technology,” says Rosenblatt, founder of Giant Steps Media Technologies. “3-D printing is the obvious example of a technology that enables physical objects to be created very cheaply and easily. We can imagine a future where even paintings and sculptures can be produced automatically. There’s no question that in an age of infinitely available cheap copies, the perceived value of creative works has gone down.

“That’s a real problem for society, when you eliminate a middle class of content creators to create a world of one-percenters… I don’t think this resale royalty act really solves the problem for the majority of artists. I think it is helpful for already-successful artists, but I don’t think it really does anything for artists that are not already successful.”

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