Artists' Resale Royalties Battle Reappears in Court

Roi Clarkson Colman (1884-1945) California Coastal Scene.
Roi Clarkson Colman (1884-1945) California Coastal Scene.

The California law that allowed artists to receive 5% from the resale of their work was struck down in 2012 by a federal judge in Los Angeles who cited issues with interstate commerce. A Pasadena appeals court heard arguments once again on Tuesday to uphold the Resale Royalty Act that was passed by the state in 1976.

Prominent artists in California, such as Chuck Close, and the estates of artists like Sam Francis, have long argued for the law, noting noncompliance by Sotheby's, Christie's and eBay in handing over the artists' share of resold art. Dealers and private sellers have been on both sides of the issue, and some auction houses have complied to the fee.

Sellers would need to track down artists to comply with the law, handing over a 5% cut on any sale over $1,000, with a cap of $35,000. Artists' estates would benefit for up to 20 years after the death of the artist.

Resale royalties for artists are instituted in European Union nations and other markets. And while the U.S. Copyright Office has recommended a law enforcing an artist resale royalty nationwide, thus giving visual artists the same rights as composers, authors and other creators, the push for a national law may again face stiff resistance by those opposed to "government overreach" in "private businesses."

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