Droit de suite

how much to the artist?Legislation is proposed to bring droit de suite – a rule in which some artists receive a share of proceeds from some resales of their art – to the United States. The New York Times reports here, and blog neighbour Lee Rosenbaum analyses the proposal here.

I will just deal with one point. Patricia Cohen in the Times writes:

Artists have long complained that unlike composers, filmmakers or writers, they do not receive a share of future sales.

But that is a very partial view. All artists in all genres can receive one or both of two kinds of revenue: up-front payments for their work at first sale; and later royalties. Recording artists and writers, for the most part, rely on royalties, although the more promising ones can also receive an advance on their work. Visual artists, traditionally, receive all payment at first sale, and nothing thereafter. Is this unfair? We can’t say that based on this information, because it depends on the relative size of the payments. There is nothing in this different treatment of artist compensation across genres that is inherently unfair. The payment visual artists receive at first sale are, in part, a function of how the buyer believes the work will retain its value. If it is expected the work will age well (in a monetary sense), that increases the initial payment the artist can command.

Droit de suite reduces the net value of a work of art to the collector. She knows that a future sale, if it meets the criterion for a droit de suite payment to the artist, will mean less profit for herself. And in turn, that reduces the amount she will be willing to pay for the art in the first place. So there is no guarantee such legislation will work to the net benefit of artists. You cannot increase the amount collectors ultimately pay to artists simply by a work of legislation – supply and demand don’t work that way.

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