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Canadian visual artists miss out on $18,437 in Resale Right payments

Ottawa, Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 – A Sotheby’s auction held on November 23rd at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto resulted in $4,944,000 in sales of Canadian art. Among those sales, artworks by thirteen living Canadian artists were sold for a total value of $368,750. Many people profited from these sales – everyone except the artists, who did not receive a dime. This will no longer be the case if Canada adopts CARFAC-RAAV’s recommendations regarding the Artist Resale Right.

The Artist Resale Right (ARR) would give artists 5% from subsequent sales of their work through auction houses such as Sotheby’s. If Canada already had an ARR in law, $18,437 in royalties would have been paid back to living Canadian artists in this auction, in addition to the royalties that would have been collected by artists’ estates. The artists whose works were included among the sales are Rita Letendre, Claude Tousignant, Sorel Etrog, Dennis Burton, Marcel Barbeau, Alex Coleville, Ron Martin, Gordon Smith, Tony Scherman, Takao Tanabe, Joe Fafard, John Little and Molly Lamb Boback. At a rate of 5%, royalties would have ranged from $240 to $3287. Rita Letendre’s painting ‘Le Cri’, for example, sold for $30,000 and would have received a royalty of $1500.

The ARR was first introduced in France in 1920, and today, 59 countries world-wide have legislated this right, including the entire European Union. In these countries, artists receive a small percentage on sales of their work in the secondary market. The full value of an artwork often isn’t realized on the initial sale, and many artworks are donated the first time around. It is common for visual art to appreciate in value over time, as the reputation of the artist grows, and the ARR allows the artist to benefit from that increased value.

‘This royalty is based on the ongoing market value of an artist’s work and won’t cost tax payers a cent,’ said April Britski, National Director of CARFAC. ‘Auction houses like Sotheby’s regularly charge premiums of 15 – 20% to buyers. A 5% royalty is modest by comparison.’

CARFAC, the national association of visual artists in Canada and their Quebec partner RAAV are working with the federal government to have the Artist Resale Right included in changes to the Copyright Act through Bill C-32. We are confident that the change will not only bring new royalties to artists, but that it will also not adversely harm the Canadian art market, and small businesses specifically. An independent study in the UK found that 87% of the art market declared they remained unaffected financially by the ARR since it was implemented in 2006. In a study conducted by the Department of Canadian Heritage in 1999, it was revealed that nearly 97% of secondary sales take place in major auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christies, which are already experienced in dealing with the ARR in other countries.

‘The Canadian art market steadily grows in value, and currently it is the collectors and art market professionals that solely profit from its increased worth. The artist is cut out of this system,’ Britski said. ‘The majority of small local art galleries sell new work and the ARR would either not apply to them at all, or would only apply on a limited number of transactions.’

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