New $ for Visual Artists?

The United States Copyright Office has recommended to the U.S. Congress that it reconsider its copyright laws so that visual artists can benefit from the resale of their work.

Visual artists typically do not share in the long-term financial success of their works because works of visual art are produced singularly and valued for their scarcity, unlike books, films, and songs, which are produced and distributed in multiple copies to consumers. Consequently, in many, if not most instances, only the initial sale of a work of visual art inures to the benefit of the artist and it is collectors and other purchasers who reap any increase in that work’s value over time. Today more than seventy foreign countries – twice as many as in 1992 – have enacted a resale royalty provision of some sort to address this perceived inequity.


That said, the issues are as complex as the art market itself. We believe that Congress may want to consider a resale royalty, as well as a number of possible alternative or complementary options for supporting visual artists, within the broader context of industry norms, market practices, and other pertinent data. …

Although the Internet has provided artists with greater opportunities to exploit derivative images and/or sell mass-produced copies of their works, stakeholders agree that “for most visual artists . . . the amounts involved in reproduction or representation are generally insignificant.” Indeed, it appears to be common ground that reproduction rights represent a “very minor aspect of [most artists’] careers” and that the first sale of a work is “the main or exclusive source of income for almost all American artists.”

(Image by Bob Basil)

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