Wednesday 1 July 2015

Online-only art auctions: more bad news for artists?

In "Goodman and de Pury launch web-only auctions with promises to keep down fees", Roland Arkell, in the Antiques Trade Gazette, here, describes a new business model which has some repercussions for copyright too. The article explains that
"[t]wo senior members of the international auctioneering profession launch separate online-only ventures this week. Tim Goodman and Simon de Pury are embracing the digital revolution, looking to challenge a centuries-old business model with a footloose approach to selling art and antiques at auction. Goodman's Fine Art Bourse (FAB) hopes to gain traction in the market via an innovative pricing model. Meanwhile de Pury's eponymously titled firm is promising to reduce buyer's fees to 15%.

The headline statistic at FAB is that they will charge vendor's and buyer's fees of just 5% with a 72-hour packing and shipping service - so often a barrier to entry for bidding online - 'free' for both buyers and sellers. They add that transaction charges will be exempt of sales taxes or artist resale royalties, as sales are processed through headquarters in Hong Kong  ..."
It's not just the avoidance of artists' resale rights that will be of interest to copyright-sensitive readers. The production of glossy art auction catalogues provides an opportunity for the artist to charge for the reproduction of his or her work -- but if a web-only auction means web-only marketing, those deliciously desirable must-have catalogues, which have value as reference works in their own right and are held by art libraries for such purposes, may also be a thing of the past, replaced by a screenful of thumbnail images, perhaps.

Thanks go to John Walker for drawing my attention to this development.


Anonymous said...

In the UK there is a special provision in the CDPA allowing the advertising for sale of artistic works (s. 63) without infringing copyright; which is taken by the auction houses as covering their catalogues (even though they do have the secondary use referred to in the blog in Art History institutions). Because of the wording of s.63 (which only allows one to "copy" and "issue copies to the public") there is some debate as to whether it adequately covers use of copies in online "catalogues" (which would arguably infringe the separate restricted act of Communication to the public/making available) - the industry has lobbied on this point but the government has resisted making clarifying amendments.

Paul Edward Geller said...

It's not self-evident that online sales would escape the resale-royalty regime. German decisions and commentary have already dealt with choice-of-law issues on point. See M. Gruenberger and A. Dietz, "Germany" § 4[3][e] in L. Bently (ed.), INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT LAW AND PRACTICE (LexisNexis). My educated guess: the CJEU could confirm a national ruling applying the regime to EU-connected online sales. Where to localize the damages or profits -- if not at the situs of sale, then where the artist resides or the seller turns a profit?