Friday, March 6, 2009

Cold case: The art detective

In May 2008 the Labour-led New Zealand Government introduced the Copyright (Artists’ Resale Right) Amendment Bill, establishing a mandatory royalty payment for visual artists when their work is resold on the secondary market. It seems to have all gone pretty quiet; I'm not sure who's running the scheme, how's it's going or whether in fact it's even started yet; maybe it's in the process of being canned by the new National-led government, whose arts spokesman wasn't at all keen on it. I was interested to read, however, about the similar visual art resale scheme operated by the Californian state government, whose administrator spends hours trying to track down missing artists in order to send them small cheques, often for amounts under $100.

'The paperwork needed to collect royalties mushrooms from a one-page form to a project that might require wills, drivers' licenses and, sometimes, lists of heirs. It's just not worth it, in some cases. For Mr. [Jerry] Garcia, the payoff for his estate would be $812.50; in Mr. [Robert] De Niro's [Snr] case, $137.50. When one living artist was told he was owed $90, he told Ms. Milich, "Call me when you've got some more money."'
However, painter Rick Stich, who recently received a royalty cheque for $80 after an exhaustive search, commented to the Wall Street Journal that he was glad to have it. "If you found $80 on the ground, would you pick it up?" he asked. "I would."


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