I was late for work yesterday so I took a taxi into the office. On the way in the driver had CBC Radio on, with Anna Maria Tremonte’s “The Current” on the dial. The topic under discussion was about copyrights – as it pertains to visual arts.

The gist of what I understood is that SODRAC wants to charge auction houses a “royalty fee” for reproducing artists’ works in brochures, which are used to advertise the works themselves. And while I support the idea of charging a royalty fee, in a sense, the auction houses are reproducing the work to sell the work. At issue is when the work is re-sold. Artists only benefit from the initial sale and all subsequent sales do not benefit the artist.

I can well understand that. At issue, I believe, is the way SODRAC is going about collecting these royalty fees. As I understood it from the lawyer who spoke on behalf of 3 auction houses, there is an independent committee which auction houses and SODRAC could go to and work out what these fees should be, based upon various factors. What the auction houses have an issue with is that out of the blue SODRAC is issuing these invoices, with very terse language demanding payment, and tacking on penalty fees which equal or exceed the initial “fees” they want to collect. As many auctions are done to raise monies for charities I could see a potential decline in art auctions, as charities cannot afford to pay off groups like SODRAC.

It’s a sticky situation as the auction houses do understand that the artists do not make much money, on average about $10-15K per year.

My personal view? There should be something setup, via negotiations, between SODRAC and the art businesses (dealers, auction houses etc) – but no unilateral billings out of the blue.

The full story off the CBC site is:

Copyright – Union

The great American painter James McNeill Whistler once said that “an artist is not paid for his labour but for his vision”. The concept of copyright had been around for almost a century by then.

Now in the era of the internet and instant reproduction, paying artists for their labour, as well as their art, is becoming increasingly complicated. And it has given birth to organizations such as SODRAC, a Montreal-based copyright collective, which protects artists’ work, and tracks reproductions for royalty payments. Its full name in English stands for Society for Reproduction Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers in Canada. The group represents an international roster of more than 25,000 artists and artist estates in the Canadian art market, including big names such as Jean-Paul Riopelle, Andy Warhol and Picasso.

But last spring, SODRAC set off an unlikely fight between artists and the dealers who sell their work, when it invoiced a Calgary auction house thousands of dollars for reproducing an artist’s work on its brochure. We heard from Kevin King of Hodgins Art Auctions. So far the auction house has refused to pay.

To tell us more about this standoff, we reached Alain Lauzon. He the General Manager of the Society for Reproduction Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers in Canada. We reached him in Montreal.

Copyright Auctioneer Lawyer

Auction houses and art dealers are universal in their claim that they do want artists to make money from their work. But they say they have a problem with the way SODRAC has gone about invoicing on behalf of the artists and artist estates it represents.

Aaron Milrad is a lawyer for three of the auction houses contesting SODRAC’s billing practices, and we reached him at his home in Toronto.

Copyright Artists

While SODRAC, the auctioneers, and the lawyers sort out this issue, we asked John McAvity, the executive director of the Canadian Museums Association, for his thoughts. We heard from him with what he had to say.

To talk about how the artist fares in these kinds of fights, we were joined by two visual artists in our Toronto studio. Both are photographers, but they approach the business side of their work differently.

Barbara Astman is a photographer and professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design. And Karl Beveridge is a photographer who is also chair of a copyright collective called CARCC, which stands for Canadian Artists Representation Copyright Collective—and it operates in a similar way to SODRAC. They were in our Toronto studio.