Art Market Copyright Bullies –

Art Market Copyright Bullies –

bully.jpgBeing on the front line of visual arts copyright means that I have the opportunity to experience the problems associated with this issue from both sides of the fence.
The task of keeping both the artist and the client (image users such as dealers, galleries, cultural institutions, media etc.) happy is difficult at the best of times primarily because of the conflicting priorities and the complexity of copyright law. It is astounding how many people are against the payment of royalties to artist’s when images of their works are used by someone else for financial gain. Just when I think that I have heard every excuse and objection to the payment of copyright fees to an artist I am confronted with another that is even more desperate and irrational.

One of the most common and frustrating objections I hear comes from secondary market galleries and dealers who do not feel as though they should have to pay for the use of an image of an artist’s work. The reason I have singled out secondary market (the sale/s of an artwork subsequent to the initial purchase of an artwork directly from an artist) galleries/dealers is because artist’s who are selling their work through a gallery/dealer on the primary market are unlikely to ask that gallery/dealer to pay copyright fees. This is basically because the artist is receiving money from the sale of the work (and in addition may be an unknown emerging artist).

According to these galleries and dealers, by using images of artist’s works (in advertisements, catalogues, brochures, websites etc.), they are benefiting the artists. They believe they should be able to use the images without having to pay a fee because they are promoting the artists and their works, however, regardless of whether they are promoting artists and their works the gallery/dealer is benefiting from the profile of the artist whose work they are using as a promotional tool. As well as the benefit the gallery/dealer receives from the association with a particular artist, there is also the rather more significant factor of the money that the gallery gets from the sale of the work, none of which goes to the artist. What I am trying to show is that the benefit to the gallery from using an artist’s work usually far outweighs the benefit that the artist receives. Having said all this, the fact still remains that an artist is legally (in most countries) entitled to a fee when an image of their work is used in any sort of advertising or promotional activity.

In many instances the required fee just isn’t paid. More and more examples of bullying and exploitation are being brought to my attention by artists who are sick and tired of being taken advantage of. Unfortunately there are a lot of selfish people out there who think that it is their God given right to profit from an artist’s hard work. You may be amazed to know that I have also come across instances of cultural institutions refusing to purchase an artist’s work unless they sign a waiver giving that institution permission to use images of the artwork in any way they please without having to obtain permission or pay fees. Other instances of bullying include galleries refusing to promote an artist’s work unless the artist waives the copyright fees, and museums guilting artists into waiving copyright fees in ‘exchange’ for having their work exhibited.

If being a full time practicing artist is going to be a financially viable option into the future then the art market needs to invest more into the future of these artists. It is not just the monetary reward that makes copyright fees so important. Going through the correct procedure for obtaining permission to use an image, and paying the appropriate fee, is an acknowledgement of the artist’s hard work and recognises their work as being valuable and special. A worthy cause indeed.

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.

5 Responses

  1. […] Art Market Copyright Bullies – Art Market Copyright Bullies – Being on the front line of visual arts copyright means that I have the opportunity to experience the problems associated with this issue from both sides of the fence. The task of keeping both the artist and the client (image users such as dealers, gal… […]

  2. There are the same problems concirning artists anf dealers all over the world. Maybe some professional unions must be created to help us. As the growns up, it will certainly do it work and make a stable fee for all the artists

  3. Very good reasoning… well said!

  4. The refusal to accept that an artist has any ability is used as an excuse to ridicule or misinterpret ideas. The mirroring of artists, especially the newly graduated, can be mentally destructive as it devalues sincere work.

  5. Am wondering if a gallery makes a show catalog–do they have copyright of the catalog? & if yes–then is there some other info I can put in to secure that all artists are keeping copyright to their work?

    Someone told me that if the gallery pays for the catalog they have the right to copyright catalog.

    If that’s the case–would someone interested in using an image contact the gallery or the artist?

    Thanks for any info: you can e-mail me if you have any suggestions: judgepublic(at)mac(dot)com

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