Artists Must Cash Out When Work Is Resold With Updated Copyright Laws

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

The late Inuit 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 owners,” said Laurie Bouchard, spokesperson for Champagne. “Artist resale rights are indeed an important step towards improving economic conditions for artists in Canada.

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

He says that at least 90 countries, including the UK and France, already have resale rights for artists, but Canada is lagging behind, causing many artists to abandon their craft because they can’t live on it.

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

“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 arts and culture, and our creators deserve a better and more stable income.”

The upcoming law change follows years of campaigning by Senator Patricia Bovey, the Senate’s first art historian.

Bovey, former director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, said France has had the resale right for more than 100 years and that changing copyright laws is well overdue in Canada.

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

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

“Artists are the group in Canada that represents the largest percentage of the working poor – below the poverty line,” Bovey said. “It is our artists who tell us who we are, where we are, what we face as a society. If they cannot support themselves financially, we will lose that really important window into who we are as Canadians.

Paddy Lamb, an Edmonton-based artist, said making a living in the arts is very difficult, even for established artists.

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

“For Inuit artists, as soon as their work leaves Nunavut, it immediately increases in value…and (artists) get none of that,” he said. “It’s a tool to allow artists to earn a living.”

He said Canadian artists know from artists in countries where the resale right is already in place how important payments are to “help people.”

“Most payments in Britain are made in small increments to artists who are not top artists,” Lamb said. “In Australia, a lot of that goes to Aboriginal artists. What we are asking for is true equality of opportunity.

CARFAC vice-president Theresie Tungilik, an artist who lives in Rankin Inlet, said it’s “unfair” that artists who see resold works don’t “keep a penny back.”

“I’ve watched how the world treats its artists,” she said. “France did this over a hundred years ago 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.

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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