Allowing museums to share in art royalties serves a double purpose, proponents of the federal bill said: As a matter of practical politics, it figures to put a potentially powerful constituency in their corner – just as excusing art dealers and individual collectors from paying royalties stands to preempt a good deal of potential opposition. Also, dividing the pie between artists and museums could benefit emerging artists whose works might be bought with museums' share. The share reserved for artists whose work is auctioned would mainly benefit high-profile artists whose work commands the highest prices.
Dan Monroe, president of the Assn. of Art Museum Directors, said he couldn't comment on the bill's specifics because he hadn't read it, but "we support initiatives that … help sustain artists and the art they create."
Lehman, formerly the Commerce Department's top intellectual property specialist under President Clinton, said that the bill leaves it to the U.S. Copyright Office to set specific rules for how the royalties would be collected, and how the museums' share would be distributed – a process he said would involve "ample opportunity for the public to comment" on how the system should work. Ideally, he said, the rules will favor museum purchases of up-and-comers' work rather than allowing them to stockpile royalty proceeds for high-priced pieces by name brand artists. The Jeff Koons' and Richard Serras of the world figure to be well taken-care of from the half of the pot reserved for artists whose work is auctioned.
Several bills aimed at creating a royalty for visual art died in Congress during the 1980s, but the landscape has shifted significantly since then. When previous bills were debated, art dealers warned that enacting a royalty in the United States would prompt art-sellers to take their business to dealers and auctioneers in royalty-free London. But the U.K. is now part of the European Union, and since 2006 all EU member nations, including Great Britain and Ireland, have had royalty laws.
"This is a huge game-changer for the art market in this country. It'll be a great thing for artists," Marisa Pascucci, associate editor of the Art Economist, a semi-monthly magazine that tracks the international art market, said Thursday. Art auctions in London don't seem to have suffered since the EU royalty requirement took effect, she said, adding that auction houses will likely pass on the 7% fee to buyers and sellers.
An additional benefit of the new bill, its backers say, is that American artists who don't qualify for royalties when their work is sold in other countries would start receiving overseas royalties, thanks to reciprocity provisions in the Berne Convention on Literary and Artistic Works that governs international copyright matters. The bill in Congress doesn't favor Americans over other nationalities; auctioneers would be required to pay the royalty for all artists whose work they sell.