The House of Commons adjourned last week for its summer break—but not before seeing certain MPs push for an artist’s resale right in Canada.
On May 29, Scott Simms, a Liberal MP from Newfoundland, working in conjunction with Peter Stoffer, an NDP MP from Nova Scotia, introduced a private member’s bill to bring an artist’s resale right to Canada.
Bill C-516 proposes to amend the Copyright Act so that artists receive a 5 per cent royalty on secondary sales of artworks worth $500 or more.
Though private member’s bills seldom become law, Simms tells Canadian Art that “if every MP has to vote on the bill, then they have to be aware of the issue.” So, in his view, “even if it fails [to become law], it could succeed in raising awareness for policy makers.”
Motions are more general than bills, with M-445 seeking to establish a basic principle that the government should implement some kind of right which “provides visual artists with a right to a resale royalty for their artistic works” and that is “developed in consultation with artists.”
“The last few years I’ve been in politics, I’ve learned you should do the most you can as quickly as possible,” says Nantel, who worked for 20-plus years in the Quebec music industry. “The main thing is to agree that artists have a right to have a resale right when things are resold—especially when they get older and are less productive, so that they are better known, but with less income.”
Simms and Nantel express support for each other’s initiatives, even as they differ whether certain details—like how the right should be administrated—need to be laid out at this time.
Actions Inspired by First Nations Artists
Nantel and Simms say they were triggered to take action on Artist’s Resale Right by the plight, in particular, of aboriginal artists in Canada.
“The first trigger for me has been the Idle No More movement,” Nantel says. During that time, he says he got to meet with “various players” in the First Nations art world.
The CBC’s reportage of a $450,000 estimate on a 1959 Cape Dorset print series at Waddington’s on May 6, and related comments by Q host Jian Ghomeshi about the unfairness of the sale to the original Inuit artists, sealed the deal.
“I said, ‘There has got to be something done right away,’” Nantel recalls.
Simms first heard of artist’s resale rights, also known in some nations as droit de suite, a few years ago during Council of Europe trade talks in France.
“Apparently [droit de suite] is one of the things Europe was hoping Canada would adopt,” Simms recalls, “because all countries with artist’s resale rights have reciprocal agreements with other countries.”
Simms then studied resale rights further; like Nantel, he has been a member of the Legislative Committee on Bill C-11, a major amendment to the Copyright Act that passed in June 2012. Both have also been members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
For Simms, an Ottawa Citizen story on Annie Pootoogook, the Sobey Art Award–winning artist who has recently been living on the streets of Ottawa, was the final straw. “It said she was selling drawings on the streets for $25, but her earlier work was selling in a gallery for $2,500.”
Simms notes that Nunavut’s government already supports creation of an Artist’s Resale Right given the large numbers of First Nations artists who live there (in Cape Dorset and elsewhere) and would benefit.
Stoffer, the NDP MP who co-sponsored Bill C-516 with Simms, is married to Andrea Stoffer, who is an artist. Speaking in the House of Commons on May 29, Simms cited her as another inspiration for the bill.
Art Dealers Association Urges Caution
While certain MPs are excited about artist’s resale rights, Jeanette Langmann, president of the Art Dealers Association of Canada and a director at Uno Langmann in Vancouver, says caution is needed when proceeding with the idea.
“I think that it is fair and commendable to improve the economic conditions of Canadian artists, and I think that dealers and artists can and must work together to find a solution that is equitable and benefits everyone,” Langmann says. “But I think this artist’s resale right initiative could have a negative affect on a market that is already fragile.”
Langmann fears that “sales would be driven to the US,” where there is no national resale right, and that “any market there is at the moment for Canadian artists” would suffer as a result.
ADAC is currently putting together a position paper on the artist’s resale right. Langmann argues that the administrative costs are very high for such a right, and that relatively few artists benefit as a result.
“I think it is the most established artists who will benefit the most,” Langmann says. “I think there needs to be more research done as to how much benefit there would be to the average artist.”
Other options, she says, for supporting artists could include “tax cuts for artists, tax cuts for buying Canadian art, or a retirement fund for artists.”
“There are many ways of working around this,” Langmann says, “without a 5 per cent implementation which will be perceived as a tax.”
CARFAC Continues Push for Right
CARFAC, a non-profit corporation billed as “the national voice of Canada’s professional visual artists,” has been pushing for an artist’s resale right for several years and its leaders expressed support for the new bill and motion put forth by MPs.
“They are both a good step in the right direction,” CARFAC national director April Britski says.
Britski confirms that CARFAC met with both Pierre Nantel and Scott Simms in advance of their respective actions in parliament and provided them with information as to how an artist’s resale right might work in Canada.
CARFAC has also presented to the Bill C-11 and other parliamentary committees about artist’s resale rights in recent years, and talked about it with other Ottawa politicians.
Though Britski says it could be months, or even years, before Bill C-516 or Motion M-445 come up the House of Commons docket for further discussion, the policymakers involved remain enthusiastic.
“We know there are about 70 countries doing this [working with an artist’s resale right],” Simms says. “At the very least I could say, ‘Let’s try this; it’s only right.’”
This article was corrected on June 25, 2013, at 3 p.m. The original article erroneously implied that CARFAC was specifically named as a resale right administrator in Bill C-516. In fact, the bill states that “the resale right in a work may only be exercised through a collective society” and names no specific collective society as such. Canadian Art regrets the error.