In the LAT yesterday, Jori Finkel describes an interesting lawsuit that's about to go to trial, in which an artist is suing a collector for a 5-percent cut of the resale of his original paintings.
In the United States, visual artists, unlike musicians, usually only make money once in the sale of an artwork. After a work is sold the first time, other people make money on it—not the artist.
But California is the only state with a law that gives visual artists royalty fees. California's law says artists are entitled to 5 percent of the sale price when their works are resold. (It applies only to one-of-a-kind originals, not editioned photographs or prints.)
The law is relatively easy for collectors to disregard. Many sales are made in private. Other times, even artists who know they've been screwed don't sue, because lawyers' fees could zero out resale payments.
But painter Mark Grotjahn is taking a stand against collector Dean Valentine—and this is the first real test of the 1976 law in the courts. Class-action lawsuits against Christie's and Sotheby's, alleging violations of the same law and involving Chuck Close along with other artist-plaintiffs, are also in the works.
It's not a case of rich collector versus poor artist, says Valentine. (His point is taken: Most artists will never make as much money as Grotjahn did even the first time his works were sold.) "As a California resident," Valentine says, he doesn't feel he should be "disadvantaged." (Another point might be taken here: The idea of Valentine as "disadvantaged" in any way whatsoever is ridiculous.)
But because Valentine is a major collector of rising artists in L.A., it could be unfortunate if he decided to take his money elsewhere.
Here's a larger question: Is there any good reason why American artists don't make royalties?