U.S. Copyright Office Endorses Resale Royalty Rights for Visual Artists



The U.S. Copyright Office released a 124-page report Friday reversing its 20-year-old position opposing resale royalties, also known as droit de suite, for visual artists. Federal legislation that could significantly impact artists’ incomes and art dealers’ profits will follow early next year, said the forthcoming bill’s sponsor, Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York.

At issue is whether visual artists should get a cut of the profits when their art increases in value and is resold. Congressman Nadler introduced the Equity for Visual Artists Act of 2011, which would have set aside a resale royalty of 7 percent for artists whose work was resold for over $10,000 at large auction houses. The Act languished after its senate sponsor, Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), retired last year, but led to the U.S. Copyright Office’s reconsideration and new report.

“Congress should be concerned,” the Copyright Office’s report concluded, that the current copyright system “is disfavoring a discrete class of authors,” namely painters, illustrators, sculptors and photographers who don’t “share in the long-term financial success of their works.” The report’s authors cite “recent developments,” including the adoption of resale royalty statutes by 30 countries in the last 20 years and the concept’s widespread acceptance in Europe and other parts of the world, as a factor in its reversal.

New York art lawyer Donn Zaretsky characterized the report as “not quite a full-throated defense of, or statement of support for the legislation,” in that it does suggest further study is warranted. “It’s an intangible statement of support for visual artists and respect for what they do,” Zaretsky told A.i.A. by phone today, adding, “I’m just not sure it’ll be enough to push legislation over the finish line.”