Nunavut pushes for artist resale royalty
Inuit artists would gain fee from auction resales
The Government of Nunavut wants Inuit artists to gain the right to receive resale royalties from their work, even though the federal government failed to deal with the issue in recent amendments to copyright legislation.
Such an “artist resale right” would guarantee artists a fixed percentage of the resale price of art works — such as carvings or prints — that are resold through auction houses or commercial galleries.
Bill C-11, a set of amendments to the Copyright Act, which the House of Commons passed with its third reading this past June, was supposed to include a resale rights amendment.
But the bill passed without such an amendment, which would have seen artists entitled to receive a five-per-cent resale right in Canada.
The right would, in turn, have led to reciprocal agreements with the European Union and some jurisdictions in the United States, which also have artists resale rights laws.
“Artist Resale Right and its effects on Nunavummiut Artists,” a study prepared earlier this year by the Government of Nunavut’s tourism and cultural industries division, notes that “Nunavut artists stand to benefit the most from the adoption of resale rights.”
That’s because artists in Nunavut have limited sales options, such as door-to-door sales or sales through wholesalers or galleries.
So, artists get paid and often that’s the “last they see of their work,” the GN study said.
However, if Canada were to create resale rights law, artists or their descendants could continue to see money flow from the resale of their works.
For example, in 2008 a print, “The arrival of the sun” by Kenojuak Ashevak, sold at Waddingtons auction house in Toronto for $16,400.
With artist resale rights, she would have received five per cent royalty from that sale of $820.
The GN study rebuts criticism that a resale royalty would reduce the number of people who buy high-end Inuit art.
But the GN does acknowledge that the royalty would effectively function like a tax on the sale of visual arts “and the price of Nunavut art sold in the South would have to be raised to reflect that.”
The GN study cites support for the resale right among galleries and collectors.
As for Waddingtons, its Inuit art expert, Christa Ouiment said the auction house “is not opposed to contributing to an action that would benefit the welfare of Inuit.”
But she said she had concerns about how the system would work and how it would be regulated.
Ouimet also pointed out that some Inuit art works actually depreciate in value and are sold at a loss. In that case, they would not generate a royalty.
The GN says the artist resale right would help Nunavut artists who are prevented from tapping into the southern arts market due to barriers like distance, the lack of affordable broadband, language and education.
As well, a resale right would help protect their intellectual property rights.
While Bill C-16 didn’t include any provision for resale rights, the GN plans to keep looking at whether free trade agreements with the European Union or other countries with resale sights could help revive the idea of similar legislation in Canada.
The artist resale right or “droit de suite” was first introduced in France in 1920.
Since then, 59 countries around the world have passed legislation to establish resale royalty rights for visual artists.
The Canadian Artists’ Representation, the national association of Canada’s professional visual artists, also supports an artist resale right for Canada.
This group wants to see the seller of a work of art that has been previously sold pay a five-per-cent tax on the amount received in payment, whether the work is sold at a loss or not.
The resale right could even be extended to deceased artists.
The GN also plans to update its study with new information, such as its calculations from an April 2012 Waddingtons auction where $44,617 worth of Nunavut art was sold.
If Canada had protected the rights of its visual artists, $17,037 would have been returned to Nunavut artists.