Going Once, Going Twice – Artists File Federal Suits Against Top Auctioneers.
New York painter Chuck Close and other artists are suing Sotheby’s, Christie’s and eBay, claiming that the auctioneers willfully violated a California law requiring royalty payments on sales of their works.
Three federal suits filed Tuesday (on behalf of Close, Los Angeles artist Laddie John Dill, and the estate of late sculptor Robert Graham) seek class-action certification to represent many other artists and demand unspecified royalties and punitive damages (which could total hundreds of thousands of dollars given current art prices, plus legal fees).
The 1977 California Resale Royalties Act grants artists or their estates 5 percent of the proceeds from resale of their works if the sale is made in California or the seller is a California resident.
The defendants may have an argument that the Act is unconstitutional. Writing in 1980 in the Boston College International & Comparative Law Review, Carole M. Vickers noted that the federal Copyright Act of 1976 specifically says that it stands “exclusively” as the law of the land on all copyright-related matters, and that “the statutes of any state” are not valid. Vickers wrote that the California law “arguably … conflicts” with the federal copyright law, a point that the auctioneers will likely argue.
Featured image: “Emma” by Chuck Close.