Lawsuits Over Unpaid Artist Royalties

Whenever a work of fine art is sold and the seller resides in California or the sale takes place in California, the seller or the seller’s agent shall pay to the artist of such work of fine art or to such artist’s agent 5 percent of the amount of such sale.   (California Civil Code §986(a)).

As the New York Times reported today, as a class action plaintiff, Chuck Close  is suing auctioneers Sotheby’s, Christie’s and eBay in relation to the section of the California Art Resale Royalties Law quoted above. If an art seller resides in California, the obligation to pay the royalty may include sales that occurred outside of the boundaries of California as well, and potentially, some sales of American artwork that may have occurred outside of the country.

According to the report, two related lawsuits for failure to pay royalties to artists seek disclosure of the identities of art sellers–including sellers who live in California– and by extension, seek to identify sellers who did not pay the required 5% royalty to artists on profitable sales.   Knowledge of seller identities is critical for enforcing the law and ensuring that artists’ rights to the royalty payment have not been violated.  The information concealed by the auctions is, as attorney Eric George noted, “the very information necessary to know whether a royalty is due.”

The same article also notes that only a shockingly small sum of art royalties have been paid under the law– a mere $328,000 over 34 years.  Clearly not all who should have paid did so.

See Artuntitled.com for more information about the California Art Resale Royalties Law.

Friction as Artists File Suit Over Resale Royalties” by Patricia Cohen, New York Times, November 1, 2011.

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