New law could mean photographers get a cut of art auctions


posted Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 1:43 PM EDT


A quick look through the Christie's website shows that photographs are currently a hot commodity. In fact, the famed auction house has three photography themed auctions coming up, including a collection of Ansel Adams' work expected to bring in millions. But if you're an artist whose work goes under the auctioneers hammer, you don't see a penny of that resale—but with a newly proposed law, that might just change.

The American Royalties Too Act (ART Act) has been proposed by three representatives: Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Ed Markey (D-MA), and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). If passed, the law would see visual artists receive a 5% cut on the price of works re-sold at an auction house. This would be limited to just auction houses, would only apply to works that go for more than $5,000, and would be capped $35,000 for each sale (but that number would adjust for inflation).

According to PDN Pulse, some 70 other countries have similar protections in place for artists. It would mean that photographers whose work has become popular, would continue to benefit from their art being sold over and over at auction. It could also be argued that it will help photographers keep print numbers low, as they won't feel the need to keep producing more prints to make money from.

The counter-argument to the bill relates to the long standing rule of First Sale doctrine. That's the part that allows you to do whatever you like with something after you buy it—so you can sell a book second hand, and not owe any of what you get to the rights holders. The ART Act would essentially change that, which could have deep implications for other media too.

(via PDN Pulse, FKKS)

Image: My Trusty Gavel, by Brian Turner. Used under a Creative Commons license.