Jeremy Eccles | 28.11.09

Author: Jeremy Eccles
News source: press release

While all else in Parliament was in chaos, the Senate quietly passed the Resale Royalty for Visual Artists Act 2009 on Thursday November 26th. Not that it comes into effect until the Queen has signed off on it (date unknown), and not that any funds will be delivered until the Arts Ministry has chosen a collecting agency by tender and about 6 months have passed.

As the royalty of 5% of the price of any artwork (bought after the Royal Assent) when it is resold by that buyer requires a second sale to have taken place, it may be many years before the new system brings great joy. But it will certainly happen sooner for Aboriginal artists working in communities than for anyone else. For their initial sale to the community art centre will be taken as the first sale under the scheme; when that painting is then resold by a gallery, that will trigger the new Royalty.

All future sales up to 70 years after an artist's death will also trigger royaties, because there will be no opting out of the scheme – as some countries permit. Artists and their heirs will have to be registered with the collecting agency – likely to be Viscopy.

The government offers the following example of how the scheme will work:
In September 2010, after the resale royalty right legislation has come into effect, a gallery owner negotiates with an Indigenous art centre the outright purchase of a range of works. One canvas is purchased for $10,000 (though the artist may only have received 40/60% of that).
The gallery owner puts the work up for sale at an exhibition in December 2010, and the canvas is purchased by an investor for $16,000.
A royalty payment to the artist of $800 (less administration costs) is triggered as the gallery owner acquired the work following the introduction of the resale right.

Will this 5% impost put a dampener on the indigenous art market next year? Will it encourage dealers to try to negotiate directly with artists – though it's worth noting that 'exchanges' of art for cars, etc are certainly a sale under this new law? Will art collectors be dissuaded by the prospect that they will be responsible to pay 5% of any resale price to the collecting agency – whether they have made a profit or not? And who will be responsible for deciding on the identity of an artist's heir or heirs when so few Aboriginal artists are prepared to draw up a will and nominate an heir?

The new Royalty isn't limited to painting. The right will cover original works of visual art including batiks, carvings, ceramics, drawings, engravings, 'fine art' jewellery, glassware, lithographs, multimedia artworks, paintings, photographs, prints, sculptures, tapestries, video artworks and weavings.

But the resale price must be greater than $1000. And it'll become necessary to keep an eye on some strange currencies – as the Resale Right transfers to sales in many countries around the world including Burkina Faso, Estonia, France, Madagascar, The Philippines, The Russian Federation, the UK and California.


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