Artists to get paid when work is resold with updated copyright laws

OTTAWA – Artists will get paid when their work is resold in a reorganization of copyright laws that would give them a share of collectors’ profits.

Painters, sculptors and other visual artists can get paid when their work is resold at auctions and galleries, in a government move designed to help keep thousands of currently working artists below the poverty line.

Under the reforms to the copyright law, drafted by Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Heritage Minister Pablo Rodríguez, artists would obtain a “resell right” that would give them a royalty during the period of copyright, according to the Champagne office.

Artists complain that they now get nothing if paintings and sculptures increase in value dramatically.

Montreal abstract artist Claude Tousignant, whose painting Accelerateur Chromatique 90 sold in 2012 for $110,000, is among the artists supporting reform of the law. He would have received $5,500 if the copyright law changes being prepared by ministers had been in place when it was resold.

The late Inuk artist, Kenojuak Ashevak, sold a work called Enchanted Owl in 1960 for $24 and it was later resold for $158,500.

“Our government is currently advancing work on possible amendments to the Copyright Act to further protect artists, creators and copyright holders,” said Laurie Bouchard, a spokeswoman for Champagne. “Artists’ resale rights are indeed an important step in improving the economic conditions of artists in Canada.”

CARFAC, which represents Canadian artists, wants artists to get 5 percent of the value of their work when it is resold, and for their estate to be funded under copyright rules decades after their death.

He says at least 90 countries, including the UK and France, already have resale rights for artists, but Canada is falling behind, leading many artists to abandon their craft because they can’t make a living from it.

There are more than 21,000 visual artists in Canada, and according to the 2016 census, their median income is $20,000 a year from all income sources.

“It’s important to really recognize that half of our artists live in poverty,” said April Britski, executive director of CARFAC. “We all benefit from the arts and culture, and our creators deserve a better and more stable income.”

The upcoming change in the law follows years of campaigning by Sen. Patricia Bovey, the first female art historian in the Senate.

Bovey, a former director of the Art Gallery of Winnipeg, said France has had resale rights for more than 100 years and change to copyright laws is long overdue in Canada.

The senator said she knew many artists who had sold works early in their careers for small sums, and had seen them appreciate them “for 10 times or more.”

Inuit artists, who often live in remote areas and sell locally, are among those who would particularly benefit if they get a share of the resale value at galleries and auctions.

“Artists are the group in Canada who make up the largest percentage of the working poor, below the poverty line,” Bovey said. “It’s our artists who tell us who we are, where we are, what we’re up against as a society. If they can’t support themselves financially, we’re going to lose that really important window into who we are as Canadians.”

Paddy Lamb, an artist who lives in Edmonton, said it’s very difficult to make a living from the arts, even for established artists.

He said he has seen works increase in value when artists become established and their art is sold in major galleries or auction houses.

“For Inuit artists, as soon as their work leaves Nunavut, its value immediately increases and (the artists) don’t get any of it,” he said. “This is a tool that allows artists to make a living.”

He said Canadian artists know from artists from countries where resell rights already exist how important payments are to “helping people.”

“Most payments in Britain come in smaller increments to artists who are not A-list artists,” Lamb said. “In Australia, a lot of that goes to Aboriginal artists. What we’re asking for is a really good playing field.”

CARFAC Vice President Theresie Tungilik, an artist who lives in Rankin Inlet, said it’s “unfair” that artists who see resold works don’t “get a dime.”

“I’ve been looking at how the world has been treating its artists,” he said. “France has done this for over a hundred years and it is important for all Canadian artists, including Inuit artists, that they have the same right.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 6, 2022.

1 thought on “Artists to get paid when work is resold with updated copyright laws”

  1. “Artists to cash in when work is resold with update of copyright laws” article Aug. 6th poses an interesting conundrum. While there are a few cases where works of art increase dramatically in value, in most cases run-of-the-mill art works decrease in value and are resold at garage sales not auctions. Will artists also have to share the losses when their works sell for less than the original purchase price? Of course not.

    Interestingly the government uses the same “heads I win, tails you lose” rule when it comes to taxing art sales. If you sell a work of art for more than $1,000, and make a profit, you have to pay capital gains tax on that profit. If however you lose money selling a work of art you cannot claim that loss. Since losses on art happen far more often than gains, and the government already taxes those gains, wouldn’t it be fairer if the government shared the taxes they collect from these artwork sales with artists? If the government is now going to take a double-dip from the few lucky art sellers, then the CRA should at least allow all art sellers to write off their loss.


Leave a Comment