Sensitive to Art & its Discontents
Artists in Canada might soon join artists in more than 90 countries who enjoy a resale royalty right, giving them a cut of the profits when their work rises in value.
Canadian ministers François-Philippe Champagne and Pablo Rodriguez are currently drafting reforms of copyright law to afford artists royalties when their works appreciate in the secondary market. It is a move that proponents of copyright reform hope can improve the lives of Canadian artists, a group that represents the largest fraction of the working poor in the country. At present, Canadian artists, like their American peers, receive nothing if their work skyrockets in value after its initial sale. Advocacy groups like Canadian Artists’ Representation (CARFAC) are pushing for the government to institute a 5% royalty in resales, which would pertain even after the artist dies — at which point the funds would be collected by their estate.
In 2014, Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ed Markey and New York Representative Jerrold Nadler introduced the American Royalties, Too (ART) Act. The legislation was subsequently reintroduced several times before fatefully dying in a congressional committee in 2018 when it was most recently proposed, with major auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s lobbying heavily against the act. The only state which has had comparable regulations in place is California. In 1977, the California Resale Royalty Act went into effect, which instated a 5% royalty on artworks over $1,000 that went up in value upon resale — but its implementation in recent years has been largely thwarted by the courts.
Canadian lawmakers also expect that copyright reforms for artists would particularly benefit Inuit artists, who disproportionately sell in markets where their works are undervalued. Kenojuak Ashevak, for instance, sold her work “Enchanted Owl” in 1960 for $24. It was later resold for $158,000. In 1970, the print featured on Canada’s commemorative stamp, and is now collected by the Brooklyn Museum.
“Our government is currently advancing work on potential amendments to the Copyright Act to further protect artists, creators, and copyright holders,” Laurie Bouchard, a spokeswoman for Champagne, said. “Resale rights for artists are indeed an important step toward improving economic conditions for artists in Canada.”
Editor’s Note, 8/12/22 8:30am EDT: A previous version of this article used the wrong gender for artist Kenojuak Ashevak. We truly regret that mistake.
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