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Visual Artists’ Resale Right

Update on the global campaign for a new international treaty on the visual artists’ resale right. The resale right is a fundamental right for authors of graphic and plastic arts. It consists of a small percentage of the resale price that art market professionals pay to them at each resale of their works, be it in auction or in a gallery.

Born in France in 1920 and harmonized in Europe by the Directive of 27 September 2001 the artist resale right is now recognised by 65 states, including all members of the European Union. Although it is recognised under the Berne Convention, it is not mandatory and many countries, including two of the major art markets in the world (the US and China) do not recognise it under their laws. Furthermore, where the right does exist, it is granted on a reciprocal basis, meaning that artists from countries that do not grant the right cannot benefit from it in countries that do. In response to this situation a campaign has been launched to make the right mandatory under a new international treaty, thus ensuring the benefits of the right to visual artists all over the world.

The latest forward step in this campaign occurred on Friday 3rd July 2015, following a busy week of advocacy and meetings in Geneva, when the visual artist’s resale right was officially added to the agenda of the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) for discussion at future sessions.

This came about following a series of activities that were jointly organised by CISAC (International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers), EVA (European Visual Artists) and GESAC (European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers) on the occasion of WIPO’s (World Intellectual Property Organisation) SCCR session.

At a special side event an academic study commissioned by CISAC on the need for an international treaty on the resale right was presented by Professor Sam Ricketson (Melbourne University). In addition, CISAC representatives engaged in intense lobbying efforts which included several meetings with member state representatives, to coordinate broad support for formal and technical discussions on the resale right at the plenary. All these efforts were rewarded when the delegates from Congo formally requested the addition of the resale right to the SCCR agenda, supported by Senegal, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Brazil, Iran and the European Union. Canada, in a position which was echoed by the US, generally supported adding new items to the SCCR agenda without expressing clear support for the resale right, but also without opposing it. Switzerland indicated their openness to discuss the resale right, while Japan stated that it was not in a position to support the proposal, stressing that the Berne Convention provided sufficient flexibility for countries that want to implement it.

Overall, the decision of the SCCR to open with discussions at the next plenary (December 2015) is a significant achievement and an excellent outcome for visual artists and their societies. We will report further on the outcome of these discussions.

Article originally published in November 2015.

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