Adam Hill's poster for CAL

Jeremy Eccles | 06.12.11

Author: Jeremy Eccles
News source: Interview

The amount of money collected by the Resale Royalty scheme that came into force in Australia in June last year is on the point of reaching half a million dollars. $300,000 of that will have gone to indigenous artists.

To be precise, at the end of November, $475,000 had been collected by the Copyright Agency (CAL). They took 5% off for admin costs and handed the rest out to the 340 artists whose 2981 artworks had re-sold for over $1000 in the past 17 months. More than 1800 of those works were indigenous. And, as a result, 50% of the money collected has come from galleries or dealers who've signed up to the scheme which specialise in indigenous art sales. Not all galleries are yet signed up, but all auction houses are – though their contribution, surprisingly has only been 20% so far.

This, I believe, is just what then-Arts Minister Peter Garrett intended. His second reading speech for the Bill in November 2008 indicated his hopes that indigenous artists would be the early beneficiaries, and it was CAL's enthusiasm to get out to remote communities and to indigenous art events like Art Mob in Alice and the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair to explain the scheme to remote artists, encourage them to draw up wills identifying the proper beneficiaries for the 70 years their copyright will last, and get hold of their bank accounts that won them the contract to collect.

A surprise is that only a handful of remote art centres have signed up to report their sales under the scheme. Many art centre indigenous boards in the past had insisted on payment upfront for all artworks delivered. But that would have been the first sale. The city gallery buying it would have been a resale subject to the 5% impost. A member of the public buying thereafter would have been hit by a further 5%. It seems that both art centres and their dealer connections are now taking art on consignment – meaning that prices to the public aren't increased by 5.25% at a time when the GFC has hit the industry hard anyway. It's probably not what Garrett intended.

So it's to be hoped that the artists have understood what's happening – short-term loss for long-term gain. That's certainly the message of the two brass-tacks posters produced for them. CAL got Blak artist Adam Hill to do their's, and it does seem to be based on the old paradigm of art centre selling to city gallery; ANKAAA and Ku Arts have used cartoons by John Saunders.

There was a ton of negativity about resale royalty from dealers when the scheme came in. An alliance was formed consisting of Antique dealers, auction houses, the indigenous Art.Trade, second-hand booksellers and even the odd art centre like Warlakurlangu to fight the complexities of the scheme. But CAL's modest 5% fee compared to 15% in the UK, and its sensible use of an Art Market Professional Advisory Panel to devise user-friendly systems seems to have quieted the anger. There's simplified, on-line reporting, for instance, for resales below $1000 – which don't attract a royalty, but do have to be reported. And that's about 75% of the scheme at the moment.

According to Judith Grady, CAL's Manager of Resale Royalty, they're investigating ways of adding images to the reporting, using image-matching software to identify match-ups. This will be particularly useful in the indigenous area where many titles are similar or Untitled, where artists names are similar, and where measurements are occasionally imprecise.

For, one of the side-effects of Resale Royalty is an increased transparency in the murky world of art dealing. We might even find out eventually how big the indigenous art industry actually is after years of ever-bloating guesswork!

Who's getting the money? That we may never know, for though CAL reports to Parliament regularly, 'privacy concerns' are cited against naming names – such as that of the $40,000 beneficiary of the largest resale so far under RR, indicating an $800,000 hammer price at auction. Only 2% of royalty payments are over $5000, by the way, while 58% got less than $300.

Presumably in France, the originator of this droit de suite, names are published. For we know that between 1993 and 1995, 40% of the resale royalties collected there went to some 50 artists (in 35 cases, their heirs), with Giacometti’s and Picasso’s heirs collecting the largest amounts. Indeed, government discussion papers leading up to the Act in Australia calculated an even worse case scenario in which just 5 artists – all dead white males – would have taken away 39% of the royalties in 2003. This sort of statistic leads to on-going complaints wherever Resale Royalty is introduced that the amount forfeited by young painters but handed out to the offspring of artists such as Giacometti, Picasso, Bonnard, Matisse, and Chagall brings about a ‘regressive redistribution of income’.

Interestingly, while the royalty can be paid by either buyer or seller, and it was 50/50 when the scheme started, the trend is towards the seller stumping up, even though he or she may well not have made a profit. For the argument is that the artist – as would be the case with a composer or a writer – has an on-going interest in the value of the artwork, whether it goes up or down in price.

This trend may well be a reflection of the need to woo buyers back to art auctions. But could it also be a reflection of the sellers' concurrence with the notion that the pleasure they've had from an artwork ought to be repaid to the artist in this tiny way?


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John Saunder's poster for ANKAAA and Ku Arts


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Artists: Adam Hill

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