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Resale royalty rights

In 2002, following a Commonwealth Government inquiry into the contemporary visual arts and crafts sector, Arts Minister Rod Kemp released the Myer Report. This report recommended the introduction of legislation that would entitle artists to a share of the sale price each time their art is resold. This is known as a resale royalty.

In March 2006, the Federal Member for Fraser, Bob McMullan, announced he would introduce a private member’s Bill into Parliament that would grant artists resale royalties. The introduction of a resale royalty was motivated by record sales achieved for Indigenous artwork. Sales now exceed $10 million a year. ‘All of which’, as one commentator observes, ‘is good for the Indigenous art market, if not, in the absence of a resale royalty, for the artists who painted the works’ (Strickland, 2005).

Resale royalty rights provide that visual artists continue to share in the economic returns that their works attract after the original sale. In introducing the Bill, Mr McMullan said that a resale royalty is a means to address perceived inequities arising from and compounded by the resale of art , including Indigenous art, for large sums without benefit to the artists.

Visual artworks are distinct from other forms of artistic expression in the way that the artist is usually remunerated. For writers, composers or filmmakers, the income stream to a creator usually flows from the licensing of editions, performances or screenings of the work rather than the sale of the original. But for most visual artists, the sale of the original work generates the largest income stream. Artists do not typically have an equivalent means for gaining an economic return for the use of their works. This is because the value is in the original work, not reproductions, and their original artworks are usually not ‘performable’.

A resale royalty seeks to correct this imbalance by providing that a proportion of the price paid when an artist’s original work is resold is paid to the creator of the work. Resales of artworks often occur in art auction houses, in commercial galleries and increasingly through electronic trade. Artists are among the lowest paid workers in Australia and a resale royalty scheme could provide a significant reward for their creative effort and improve their economic status.

Some major reasons to support a resale royalty scheme are that:

  • it will provide an additional income stream to some artists (and their families)
  • it recognises the value of artists to Australian society
  • it provides Australian artists with an internationally recognised right.
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