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Towards a global resale right

To celebrate 40 years of protecting artists’ rights, DACS’ Legal Manager, Paul Kowalewski explores the growing international momentum behind the Artist's Resale Right and why it marks an important moment in the art world, enabling fair recognition and rewards for artists worldwide.

A series of four expanding white figures against a pale blue tile background, forming a protective bridge over a figure in a yogic backbend.
Flow State, 2019.
© Renee So. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2022.
Photo: Rob Harris

Towards the end of the 19th century, ‘The Angelus’, a painting by the late French artist Jean-François Millet depicting two peasants saying a prayer at work, so captured people’s imagination that a bidding war drove up its value to a record 800,000 gold francs. Meanwhile, the artist’s family lived in poverty, unable to benefit from the sale of Millet’s artwork. The disparity between the value of the work and the family’s means sparked a debate about artists’ rights that eventually resulted in the French law 'droit de suite' (‘right to follow’), which compensates artists or their estates when their artwork is resold.

Rightsholders in France have continued to benefit from this groundbreaking right to this day, which was subsequently incorporated into the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic works, the minimum standard for international copyright. Effective implementation has been incremental and unhurried, despite the obvious benefits to the creators sustaining the global art market.

The Artist’s Resale Right law, as it is known in the UK, ushered in a new era of artists’ rights and a movement to protect and ensure fair treatment for artists within the art market. In the near two decades it has existed in the UK, ARR has helped to support the UK’s lively artistic community, with DACS having distributed over £125 million in ARR royalties to artists and estates. These royalties are not tied to funding criteria: they are unrestricted funds that can be used to support artistic practice, archival activities, or even just to meet the cost of living.

Recent strides in the global expansion of ARR, as seen in the new reciprocity agreement between the UK and Australia, signal an important moment in the development of a global resale right. From the 31st March 2024, Australian artists will receive ARR royalties from eligible sales in the UK, and vice versa. This significant milestone, spurred on by a bilateral trade agreement, demonstrates a commitment to promoting fairness and equality in the global art landscape. The extension of paying ARR to Australian artists underscores DACS' dedication to fostering a more inclusive and supportive artistic community.

Our collaboration with our Australian counterpart, Copyright Agency, holds the promise of creating more opportunities for creators, especially indigenous artists. Josephine Johnston, Copyright Agency Chief Executive, has praised the reciprocity agreement as a positive step for Australian artists, marking a new era of recognition and reward for their creative contributions.

With the growing popularity of Aboriginal art worldwide, particularly in Europe, First Nations artists will benefit from this extension of the scheme.

Josephine Johnston
Copyright Agency Chief Executive

Beyond individual agreements, the growing momentum of ARR globally suggests an important shift in the art world. Countries like New Zealand and South Korea are in the process of adopting ARR regulations, reflecting the increasing protection of artists' rights internationally. This movement not only safeguards artists' interests but also enables mutual benefits for creators across jurisdictions.

The broader implications of ARR go beyond national borders, aligning with the principles of fairness and equity advocated by international organisations like WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) and CISAC (International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers). Calls for a new international treaty on ARR highlight a collective commitment to establishing global standards for the proper collection and distribution of royalties, bridging gaps between nations.

In the aftermath of the UK’s departure from the European Union, the UK's independent negotiations with various countries have paved the way for enhanced ARR reciprocity. By incorporating ARR into free trade agreements with partners such as Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and the EU, the UK reaffirms its role as a leader in advancing artists' rights globally.

The international expansion of ARR reciprocity marks a significant moment in the protection of artists' rights, and a further levelling of the playing field. As nations unite in their commitment to upholding these rights, the vision of a global resale right emerges as a viable reality, ensuring that artists from all corners of the globe receive the recognition and reward they deserve. Through collaborative efforts and steadfast advocacy, we can build a future where the wealth generated by artistic endeavour enriches the many and not just a privileged few, in a world where creativity relies on a network of talent and inspiration, irrespective of financial status or geographical location.