March 17th, 2014

Photographers Could Get Royalties on Auction Sales Under Proposed Federal Bill

Few things are as frustrating to photographers as selling a print for a few thousand dollars–or less–then watching collectors reap huge profits by re-selling those same prints at auction years later for tens of thousands of dollars–or even more.

Two US Senators and a US Congressional representative have introduced a bill to cut visual artists in on that action with a 5 percent royalty on the price of visual works re-sold at auction. If it becomes law, the bill would apply only to works sold by auction houses–not by private individuals or dealers–and only when the auction price of a work exceeds $5,000, according to a report on the Art Law blog of Frankfurt, Kurnit, Klein & Selz (FKK&S), a New York law firm.

The auction royalty would be capped in 2014 at $35,000 for each sale. The cap would be subject to an inflation adjustment every year after that, according to the FKK&S report.  Auction houses would be obligated to collect the so-called auction royalty, and subject to civil claims from artists if they fail to collect and pay the royalty.

The bill, called the American Royalties Too Act (ART Act), was introduced last month in the Senate by Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Ed Markey (D-MA), and in the House by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

“American artists are being treated unfairly,” said Nadler in a prepared statement. “The benefits derived from the appreciation in the price of a visual artists’ work typically accrues to collectors, auction houses, and galleries, not to the artist.”

He noted that visual artists in 70 other countries are compensated when their works are re-sold at auction.

Unable to collect royalties from the re-sale of existing prints that have increased significantly in value, US photographers sometimes respond by issuing new limited editions of their prints–in different sizes or using different printing processes from earlier editions.

That practice angers collectors. For instance, William Eggleston created limited-edition digital inkjet pigment prints of some of his most iconic images, and earned $5.9 million by selling them at a Christie’s auction in March, 2012. He was promptly sued by financier Jonathan Sobel, a long-time collector of Eggleston’s vintage dye-transfer prints. Sobel alleged that the new prints devalued Sobel’s dye transfer prints and amounted to a breach of contract on Eggleston’s part.

Sobel eventually lost the legal fight, although he had the sympathy of dealers and gallerists who worry that photographers could harm their reputations and the market for photographic prints if they anger collectors by issuing new editions.

The ART Act, if it becomes law, could help reduce incentive to issue new editions by giving photographers another way to profit from the dramatic rise in the value of their work.

But success of the bill is by no means assured.

Nadler introduced a similar bill in 2011 that died in committee. The US Copyright Office, which was opposed at the time to instituting resale royalties for visual artists, has since changed its position on the matter, according to the FKK&S report. But collectors and auction houses are certain to object to paying royalties to artists. And the ART Act seeks to change a long-entrenched principle of copyright law called the First Sale doctrine, which  allows buyers of copyrighted works to do with them as they please, with no obligation to the artists who made them.

Related:
Collector Sues Eggleston Over New Prints of Limited Edition Works

Q&A: Art Collector Jonathan Sobel Explains His Beef with William Eggleston

What Does Limited Edition Really Mean? (subscription required)

January 16th, 2014

Sundance Film Festival New Frontier Program Highlights Photography

Film still from Michel Comte's "The Girl From Nagasaki."

Film still from Michel Comte’s “The Girl From Nagasaki.”

Photography’s influence on contemporary art and society, and its use in multimedia storytelling, are on display this year at the Sundance Film Festival in the New Frontier program, which emphasizes “transmedia” storytelling.

The film festival founded by Robert Redford, which opens today in Park City, Utah, and runs through January 26, is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2014.

“New Frontier champions films that expand, experiment with, and explode traditional storytelling,” said a statement from the organizers. Participating filmmakers have created interactive photography installations that accompany their films, and have produced documentaries on photographic history and the significance of the medium. One photographer, Michel Comte, is making his directorial debut with a 3-D feature film adaptation of the Puccini opera “Madame Butterfly.”

In his film “Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People,” director Thomas Allen Harris considers the history of African-American photography and its role in African American life and identity.

In addition to the film, Allen Harris is presenting a companion installation, “Digital Diaspora Family Reunion,” “a traveling roadshow that engages local communities to bring forth their family photographs and share them with others, and upload them into a database that re-imagines the social network through family photography and family heirloom photographs,” says Shari Frilot, Sundance Film Festival Senior Programmer and curator of the New Frontier exhibition. Images from the project are showing in a New Frontier exhibition.

Another photo-based art installation, “My 52 Tuesdays,” by Artists Sophie Hyde, Sam Haren and Dan Koerner, is a companion piece to the film “52 Tuesdays,” which is in the World Dramatic program at the festival, follows a year in the life of teenage girl and her mother as the latter goes through a gender transition to become a man. The installation is a photo booth, where participants can go in and sign up to create their own yearlong personal documentary through photography. “Every Tuesday you will be sent a question that creates space to reflect on how you make choices, how you’re living your life, and you take a photograph of yourself,” Frilot explains. At the end of the year, participants will have an album of their year.

Photographer Michel Comte’s directorial debut, “The Girl from Nagasaki,” is a feature film adaptation of “Madame Butterfly” set in Nagasaki, Japan. during World War II and its aftermath. The 3-D film follows its main character as she emerges from the ashes of the atomic bomb dropped on the city. “He definitely brings a photographic sensibility [to the film],” Frilot says. “It’s a visually stunning work.”

Another artwork, Doug Aitken’s video installation, The Source, an evolving series of conversations about artmaking in the 21st century, includes photographers Stephen Shore and William Eggleston.

Finally, photographers are likely to be fascinated by artist James Nares’ work “Street.” Using a Phantom Flex HD camera, Nares slows down the frantic pace of a New York City streets to create a video installation that is “very simple and elegant and absolutely mesmerizing,” Frilot says. “You feel like you are watching a photograph of the streets in motion.”

April 23rd, 2013

Eggleston to Photo Community: Don’t Bother Me

Reclusive photographer William Eggleston has deigned to take a few written questions from photographers, curators, and fans, and the questions, along with his responses, were published yesterday in British newspaper The Independent.

Among those who posed questions were Martin Parr, Nina Berman, Alec Soth, Jason Evans, Tate Modern photo curator Simon Baker, and Brett Rogers, director of The Photographers’ Gallery in London.

Eggleston’s terse, deadpan responses reveal so little beyond his disinterest in the exchange that readers might be left wondering: Why did he bother? One possibility is that he needs to come out periodically and remind everyone that he doesn’t talk about his work, so stay the heck away. That said, if Eggleston has to put up with the type of bizarre, irrelevant questions that he was asked (e.g., What building would you like to blow up?), he might be forgiven for hiding.

April 5th, 2012

Eggleston Sued by Collector for Offering New Prints, Devaluing Limited Editions

A major collector of William Eggleston’s work filed suit against the photographer yesterday in a U.S. District Court, accusing him of devaluing his vintage dye transfer prints by selling new, large-scale pigment prints of many of his iconic works. The suit by Jonathan Sobel, a collector of 192 of Eggleston’s works, was prompted by a March 12, 2012, auction of Eggleston’s new pigment prints at Christie’s, which brought in more than $5.9 million.

Sobel, who estimates the value of his Eggleston collection at $3 million-$5 million, is suing the photographer, his two sons and the Eggleston Artistic Trust for unspecified damages, and has asked the court to bar Eggleston from making or selling any more prints of the photographs he has printed and sold previously as limited editions. Sobel says in his claim that he has eight dye transfer prints that were devalued by the sale of new digital versions at the March 12 auction.

According to gallerist Robert Mann, who sold Eggleston’s work in the late 1970s while working with one of the photographer’s original dealers, Harry Lunn Jr., Sobel is not the only person upset by Eggleston’s decision to offer a new edition of previously sold, limited edition work.

“I understand there are a lot of people out there who are pissed, and I don’t blame them,” Mann told PDN. “I’ve heard that other people are concerned, upset, wondering how this is possible, and what’s stopping it from happening again. It’s a credibility factor. I would be mortified if I was working with his collection.”

This story is developing. Check PDNOnline later this afternoon for more information on the case and what it means for the Eggleston market.