The seal of the US Copyright Office (via Wikimedia)

The seal of the US Copyright Office (via Wikimedia)

US Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Ed Markey (D-MA) and Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) have introduced a bill that would give visual artists royalties on the resale of their work, or droit de suite, Congress announced this afternoon. The bill is called the American Royalties, Too (ART) Act of 2014.

The ART Act seeks “to level the playing field for visual artists in the United States by establishing copyright protections for their intellectual property,” according to the news release. It comes on the heels of a report from the US Copyright Office last December recommending legislation to instate resale royalty rights for visual artists. It’s also the newest incarnation of Congressman Nadler’s Equity for Visual Artists Act, which has been stalled in Congress since 2011.

That 2011 bill called for a 7% royalty on works resold for more than $10,000 at auction. The current ART Act adjusts those numbers, proposing a 5% royalty (for sale prices up to $35,000) on works sold for $5,000 or more at auction. Other provisions include:

  • “The resale royalty applies to any auction where the entity conducting the auction has sold at least $1 million of visual art during the previous year.
  • “Royalties are collected by visual artists’ copyright collecting societies who must distribute the royalties to the artists or their heirs at least four times per year.
  • “Allows U.S. artists to collect resale royalties when their works are sold at auction in the E.U. and more than 70 other countries.
  • “The ART Act requires further study by the Copyright Office after five years to determine the effects of the resale royalty on the art market and whether it should be expanded to cover works sold by dealers and other art market professionals.”

The proposed application of the resale royalty right only to major auction transactions, at least initially, is a holdover from the Equity for Visual Artists Act of 2011, and a point that drew criticism at the time.

California passed the first US law ensuring droit de suite for visual artists, the Resale Royalty Act, in 1976, but it was found unconstitutional in 2012. As Hyperallergic’s Mostafa Heddaya explained in a previous post: “That ruling, which is currently pending appeal, held that the law violated the Commerce Clause by improperly placing restrictions on transactions that occur outside of the state of California.” A federal law would eliminate that problem.

Notably, today’s Congressional release includes a comment from an artist in favor of the proposed ART Act — Frank Stella, who says:

Visual artists are the only members of the creative community in the United States who do not receive residual payments for their works. … The benefits derived from the appreciation in the later sale of their works accrue entirely to the collectors, auction houses, and galleries. The adoption of the droit de suite in my country is therefore long overdue.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...