Artists’ Resale Rights

Like fine wine, art appreciates with age. As the profile of an artist grows, so too does the value of that artist’s work. When Robert Scull sold a painting he bought for $2,500 from artist Robert Rauschenberg for $90,000, the artist publicly castigated and shoved Scull over his dissatisfaction at not receiving any compensation for the secondary sale. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Warrior sold three times in seven years, its price climbing 450 percent to $9 million. Artsy’s Margaret Carrigan also notes collector François Pinault’s coup when an ‘Adrian Ghenie painting he bought in 2008 – just as the Romanian artist’s career was starting to heat up – sold for $9 million.’ In circumstances such as these, the only party that loses out on the deal is the artist.

In the current South African context, visual artists are one of the only members in the creative community who do not receive residual payments from the secondary sales of their works: composers’ royalties are distributed by SAMRO, while DALRO is responsible for distributing playwrights’ public performance royalties.

In the visual arts sphere, the primary market is one in which works are sold by galleries, resulting in the artist retaining a portion of the selling price, after the gallery has taken its cut. On the secondary market, which is driven by auction houses and art collectors, works tend to be sold at an exponentially higher rate than the initial purchase price – depending on the strength of the artist’s profile – without any compensation for that work’s creator.

Most of us are familiar with high-profile disputes between art collectors, auction houses and artists, but these are only part of the story. There are nuanced and systemic operations that affect artists at all levels of wealth and commercial presence. At the centre of this discussion are artists’ rights.

Legislative discussions around the arts market tend to omit the voice of artists, and it is for this reason that DALRO, in partnership with the Bag Factory, hosted an Artists’ Resale Rights Forum on 22 June. Specifically aimed at artists, the forum focused on the current review of the Copyright Amendment Bill and encouraged artists and arts organisations to submit recommendations – in the form of petitions, letters, video clips and so on – to Parliament.

Artists’ resale rights have been effectively legislated and implemented in over seventy countries, including Australia, Burkina Faso, France, Norway, Russia, Senegal and the United Kingdom. Studies have shown that these rights do not have any negative effect on the arts market. In fact, the only affected party is the artist, who receives compensation on any secondary sales of their works.

If these rights are omitted from the Copyright Amendment Bill, South African artists will continue to suffer. When Irma Stern’s Arab in Black sold for R17.5 million in the UK, Stern’s estate was not able to collect royalties on her behalf, despite the fact that UK artists benefit from the resale rights legislated in their country. This is only one of countless examples that demonstrate the immense value of such protections.

In a recent Mail and Guardian article, DALRO’s Managing Director Lazarus Serobe spoke of the recent boom in contemporary African art and the urgent need to protect artists’ rights: “In the mainstream economies, what they call the First World, the art scene has reached saturation; we kind of know what to expect. Art lovers in general – everybody is looking for a new thing, that’s one side of it. On the other hand, African artists have found their voices as well. It goes without saying that the things that are being produced are awe-inspiring. Art fairs are now incomplete without African artists. It’s a situation where we are no longer begging for inclusion.” (M&G 23 March 2018)

It is the duty of South African artists and arts professionals to champion artists’ resale rights for the benefit of ourselves and the South African art market. To send a submission to parliament, please use the following contact details. The deadline for submissions is 9 July 2018.

By email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

By telephone: Mr A Hermans 021 403 3776 or 083 709 8482

Mr T Madima 021 403 3822 or 083 709 8419

Images from the recent DALRO/Bag Factory Artists' Resale Rights Forum, 22 June 2018.



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