Artist Royalties

There has been more talk of an artists royalty scheme in Australia, where artists (or their family if they are dead) receive a small percentage each time their work is resold in the future.

The Sydney Morning Herald says “It (the government) is determined to introduce a resale royalty scheme this year giving artists a percentage of the sale price whenever their work is sold. The details have yet to be finalised but some industry bodies have called for a flat rate of 5 per cent on all sales and for the royalty to apply to all works sold for more than $500. That would mean an artist who sold a work 10 years ago for $500 could reap up to $10,000 if it was sold again for 200,000.”

For a simple explanation of what artist royalties are, the ArtsLaw website says “Resale royalties, sometimes called droit de suite, are a scheme whereby visual artists get a percentage of the increase in the sale price of their work each time it is resold. Resale royalty schemes exist in parts of Europe and the United States. These schemes came into existence out of a recognition that visual artists are not able to earn money from the licensing of their works as easily as other artists, such as composers and authors. This is because the primary value of a visual artwork usually attaches to the original work. Consequently, visual artists disproportionately miss out on making royalties from licensing the reproduction of their work.”

I’m still yet to be convinced that artists deserve royalties on original art that is resold in the future. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Of course I would never refuse royalties myself, but I would be giggling every time I received a royalty check/cheque as it would be money for nothing.

Why stop at artists receiving royalties? Why not extend it to house builders, car makers, and any other product that is resold for profit? If we sell our paintings at a price we believe is fair today, why should we profit again when it resold tomorrow? If the value of a painting goes down and it is resold, do artists have to pay a penalty fee to the art investor?

I also don’t see the connection with the royalties that a writer or musician receives as their art is consumed differently. A painter should receive royalties for mass produced prints and posters as he/she created the original art, but after the product is sold, it is sold.. meaning it no longer belongs to the seller.

I do think artists are special (I have to say that as I am an artist), but I don’t think we operate outside the laws of gravity. We can’t sell something and still own it at the same time.

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. “We can’t sell something and still own it at the same time.”

    This is true, and the reason we sell the painting, not the copyright.

    A builder is paid to build a house, an architect is paid to solve a problem by design. Visual arts is very different. An artist can choose to sell the copyright, but doesn’t need to in order to find a home for the picture. A building doesn’t gain value because of the ongoing creative genius of the builder, it happens because land values and inflation increases.

    Artists later in their career can continue to work at success to add value to their existing works in collections, or not. I think the rewards of re-sale royalty are of deserved and of benefit to all, no one loses.

  2. Sure Simon, we can own the copyright, so if a painting is used for an album cover, the artist would be compensated as he/she created the original art.

    But artists still should have no claim to the physical painting once it has been sold.

    And how do we compensate the art collectors of thousands artists that have done nothing to add value to their work. Some artists work hard to increase their value, but most don’t, and many quit altogether. Those that continue to add value are rewarded by selling their new paintings. The lucky collectors are rewarded for taking a risk on the artist and possibly supporting them at a challenging time in their career.

    We hear about a relatively small group of artists that continue to reach amazing prices at auction, but not the thousands of artists that are never heard of again.

    I know I should be arguing the opposite, but I just don’t see why we deserve the royalty.

  3. Just as an artist’s whose work gains profit if used for an album cover deserves a cut, I think, so too does the artist whose work gains profit for a collector. It’s only a cut. I guess this is the imbalance the resale royalty is trying to address. Unless I’m mistaken, it will only be for works sold after a certain date? So shouldn’t affect anyone who has already bought. I know certain galleries do it now anyway (if they re-sell a work for a collector, back with the artists gallery, the artist will be slung a cheque)

    I think a way to look at it is… when a work is sold, there is now three things on offer, 1-the sale of the picture, 2-the sale or retention of the copyright and 3-the sale or retention of the resale royalty? It’s a third right. If you don’t think you deserve I am sure there is means to forgo it?

  4. I’m certainly not convinced by this idea. Like you, I wouldn’t refuse the cash, but I’d think it wasn’t mine.

    I worry that this scheme will discourage people from buying art. From the art buyers point of view, they’re suddenly being told “if you decide to sell the artwork you’ve bought, the money isn’t all yours – it’s worth less to you“.

    And, as with any government scheme, this is bound to be mired in paperwork and bureaucracy, making the process of selling artwork even more difficult.

  5. Paul, I’m not 100% convinced either, but happy it’s being spoken about. I have read that the proposal is that the administration would be funded by a percentage of the royalty, as is done with music in Australia.

    I am not at all worried that the scheme would discourage the right art audience and market, who aren’t in it for the re-sale. I’m also not too concerned about the margins of the starving art collectors! Isn’t the profit taxable income anyway, and the royalty a deduction? Art lovers buy for the love of art, not re-sale. A well established Sydney gallery is known for tearing up a cheque and refusing a sale after hearing a buyer was simply in it for the investment. And to quote “those buyers get what they deserve”. (out of a recent magazine article, I can’t recall which so can’t quote accurately and won’t name). Art buying shouldn’t be about what you can make out of it, it should be about support for the visual arts culture which first and foremost starts with the artist.

  6. It has to be a negative for a buyer Paul. Im an artist, but i also think like a buyer because i love other art too. As an investor, I wouldnt want to give away some of the investment I made at my own risk.

    I buy for the love of the art, but if I make a profit (which I wouldnt do as I wouldnt sell the work if i LOVED it.. I wouldnt buy it if I didnt LOVE it either), I wouldnt want to share it with someone that sold it to me for a profit. I would feel cheated.

    I like the idea of supporting artists, but do we deserve this continual royalty?

    I wouldnt declare a sale if I could get away with it, which I’m sure I could as it would be hard to govern, but at the same time I would be happy to collect checks/cheques for my own work.

    It’s a ridiculous idea that I’m happy to go along with if I profit from it, but I still don’t think we deserve it as artists.

    It’s a lovely idea to think that you can live a life doing what you love and leave your family a legacy that will continue paying out in the future, but that’s all it is: a lovely idea.

    I like your car paintings too Simon. It’s not an easy subjest to tackle, but a lot of them work really well. It’s kind of like trying to paint smiles (almost impossible).

  7. ps.. A lot of the art buying public are in it for the money. Sad but true. Not everyone loves art like artists.

  8. Donald Frazell says:

    Damn, Dion, you are awfully rational. Sure you are an artist? :)

  9. Anonymous says:

    Well it would seem that we are our own worst enemies when it comes to making a living. Perhaps art is bought and sold for the love of art when the artist is unestablished. Tha fact is more mature works are bought and traded comodities for the sake of profit not art. The percentage is based on profit above the original sale prices and so on. So the artist shares in the gain of value as the work in traded and improves in worth. And most artist do not sell for a fair price in thier early development. We visual artists are exploited. That is why so many give up, we are not in the business to make money we are in the business to make art. But we do deserve to eat on a regular schedule too. Sharing the wealth isn’t going to hurt the collectors or perhaps better said the day traders.

  10. My two year pause did me wonders Donald. But yes, I’m all artist, and am happy to accept any checks/cheques that come my way in the future.

    To think, there was once a time when I thought that art collectors were evil because they tried to control us or have sex with us because we were young and creative!

  11. Hi, Woopidoo

    The auction houses take their cut. So do governments in taxes. So I don’t see why the original artist shouldn’t get a cut, if somebody can work out a viable system for doing so.

    Libraries pay authors. They never used to, but somebody worked out a system for giving authors a tiny percentage based on issues. I suspect only best selling authors benefit from this.

    I disagree with “We can’t sell something and still own it at the same time.”

    Artists can, because, as has already been pointed out, the artist retains copyright unless he or she sells that too. So, the buyer gets the original work of art, but the artist retains the right to copy that work of art. Most artists don’t bother, but I know one book cover artist who sells prints of his paintings, without the book title and other print the book publisher puts on top of the cover painting.

    So, providing you retain copyright, you can sell a work of art again and again. That really is having your cake and eating it too. So why do so few artists bother?

    As you say, creating art is a totally different mindset from making money. Rarely, it seems, do the two come together. And when they do, we’re jealous!

  12. Donald Frazell says:

    Book cover art is design, and has an initial purpose, something few artistes these days want to have or do. Which is why I see far more good art in movies, posters and design than art galleries. My wife has done the last two designs for the top flamenco guitarist in the world, to me far too flashy, not enough passion or sensitivity, but now tops the new age charts in America. We argued with his crazy wife as they were supplied three samples, one was fantastic, but agreed it did not fit the music on that CD. She picked another but wanted to keep that one too, no way in hell. Design always stipulates serveral samples and you get one. She is now selling it, as it is beautiful and far better than any painter i have seen lately, same with this japanese auther she did through her job for his book publicity, The True Power of Water, far better than his sorry ass book art, and can now sells it with minor changes. THATS the power of photoshop and design,

    As artists we have always relied on gallerie owners being the marketers and agents, lately they have been so preoccupied with entertaining clients, they have forgotten their true role. With the changing economy that may change, but as Dion has said, the internet may take that from them. If we can find people who know business and art. Now thats a rare combination. But essential, like finding a good auto mechanic. One you can trust and wont rip you off.

    But it is business, and not all about the artist, Other people gotta make a living too. They are just as essential as a publisher and editor are to writers. It is not all about us. And no one can do all three, creating, marketing, and representing. Unless of course they are a certain dauber with a chain of personai galleries. And you see where that leads.

  13. Droit de suite is French for rip off for bureaucrats. In the UK DACS manages this on behalf of Artists whether they like it or not. You can not opt out. They reserve the right to keep up to 25%of money raked off for themselves. Poor artists do not benefit as the work has to resell for over £800 – £900. If a work reslls for say £2000 the artist will be lucky to see enough for a pint of lager. Of course they will be able to look forward to an income when dead – always a big incentive. The problem is how many youngish not so well off collectors get put off the art market as a result of this inposition? These are the collectors the bottom end of the market needs to keep chugging along. I bought a painting from Nicola Slattery about ten years ago and it is now probably worth double the 1000 I paid. Why should I have to pay again a decade later if I choose to sell? The artist has had my money for ten years. Will I be compensated on the paintings I buy which are now worth less than half what i paid? Defend your freedom Australia. You weren’t all shipped out there many centuaries ago to fall in line with this kind of Euro nonsense!!!

  14. How is artist royalties any different that an actor getting money for ticket and DVD sales or a writer getting royalties for book sales? As an artist we create the work it is a part of ourselves, just as a book is a part of the author.

  15. Donald Frazell says:

    What? My work is not a part of me, its something I made, and have now sold. I may have worked my ass off, and sometimes being paid less per hours work than others, but as with any other business, its is a product, and when sold no longer ours. We are workers, not some guru. We keep the right for posters, magazines, calendars, whatever. I dont know where any of my sold works are, the two galleries I had before my long sojourn into fatherhood are no longere in business. One was an old gallerie, but the owner had a auto accident and I dont know where she is. Happens, move on. But I can stil sell prints of it, even the jazz gallery I sell at i have no idea who bought them. The photos realy dont matter, can always make more, so prints are completely different than paintings and drawings.

    Either way, I am on with my life doing new stuff, and my old work, like anyone elses, is gone./ I hope appreciated, but no longer my concern. Unless I somehow became as important as say Ruffino Tamayo, I dont think I will be having any retrospectives soon. Even he has only had partial ones.
    Thats life.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I havn’t seen anyone discuss “intellectual property” which would constitute partial ownership of the artist as well as the purchaser. This is my understanding and I think it fits. I find it incredibly unfair for a struggling artist to sell their work at a certain price just to make ends meet and not reap the benifit from a savvy purchase flipping the work down the road when the artist makes a name for him/her self.

  17. Donald Frazell says:

    Life isnt “fair”(a subjective judgement)
    Thats part of growing up. Youddont want to sell, dont. Otherwise, you are a worker, adn need to make ends meet jsut like all the other 6 billion plus on the planet.

    No one gets paid well when young or should, thats how one gets the training. Only a tiny percentage ever produce anything worthwile under the age of thirty. Its all preparation. Just be happy you have had the opportunity to learn and grow, now thats life

  18. Jack Wakefield says:

    I do think artists are special (I have to say that as I am an artist), but I don’t think we operate outside the laws of gravity. We can’t sell something and still own it at the same time. BINGO

    Why would australia possibly introduce ARR? It was introduced in the UK as part of EU harmonisation further to intense French political pressure at the Council of Ministers (they thought it disadvantaged the French art market if other countries didn’t have it). It is inimical to Anglo Saxon law and mentality and you will never, never see it in the US. It is also a crap law because it only helps incredibly rich estates and artists like the Picasso estate and Damien Hirst. Artists who’s work sells for under A$ 2000 (ie 99% of them) no one will bother collecting for. Furthermore it would be particularly bad to do in Australia anyway as there’s no option to go outside without a lot more inconvenience (in Europe Switzerland doesn’t have ARR) and b) Australia’s art market needs to be as liberal as possible to ensure that it gets the exposure it deserves internationally.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps the way to look at buying art is to compare it with buying your motor vehicle registration plate. You are only buying the privilege of being custodian of the thing.

Speak Your Mind