Artlaw History

In November 2009 Artquest’s online practical information, advice and support service for visual artists and craftspeople was overhauled and improved. It included a major restructuring of the Artlaw Archive of articles published in Art Monthly from its first issue in October 1976.

Artquest’s new home page now immediately offers Artlaw: a menu of legal resources and free advice to artists, including a new and highly efficient ‘find what you’re looking for’ search facility. There are also a dozen new sub-menus, the first being send a legal query offering direct access to Artquest’s free online legal Q&A service ‘intended to be a first-stop on the legal pathways that many artists come across in their careers’. The second sub-menu is frequently asked questions: responses to the most regular queries, covering many aspects of an artist’s career, including: copyright, privacy, licensing, collaborations, galleries and exhibitions, commissions, and studios.

Each of the other ten sub-menus comprises the Artlaw Archive. The articles have been re-classified and have new introductions giving an overview of what is covered within each section. Some laws, or ways of working, may have changed throughout the decades covered by the articles, but the issues for practitioners and art business professionals have changed little. What follows is a brief review of each set of articles.

Copyright. The oldest articles are placed in a special sub-section, Copyright Before 1989, which includes arguments for improving new copyright legislation when first introduced into the UK Parliament in 1987 (and eventually passing into law as the Copyright Designs and Patents Act of 1988).  Subsequent pieces consider copyright issues in relation to advertising and marketing, the emergence of computer picture librariesappropriation art, and the 1996 extension of copyright from 50 to 70 years after the artist’s death. Numerous copyright infringement cases are reported, including: a successful US suit brought by the MC Escher Foundationunauthorised castings of Giacometti sculpturesthe failure of the Bridgeman Art Library to prevent a rival company copying and trading in their photographs of Old Master paintings; the Picasso Estate’s claims against the use of the artist’s name for a new make of Citroen car; Turner Prize finalist Glenn Brown’s for alleged infringement of illustrator Anthony Roberts’s earlier work.

Contracts. ‘Put everything into writing’ is the clear and consistent message in this collection of articles.  Early pieces give examples of contractual terms and conditions that were being asked for in the 1970s and 1980s, but later ones revisit the subject with a different approach, offering basic structures and checklists for negotiating and constructing terms and conditions appropriate to individual circumstances. Common contractual relationships are dealt with, including: bills of sale; gallery and agency deals; exhibition agreements and public and private commissions; as are common contractual problems, such as damage to work; tracing lost work; disclaimers from liability; severance of contractual relationships; insurance and valuation; loans and gifts; and fakes. The contractual issues covered over the three decades continue to arise today.

Money. Income Tax and the achievement and maintenance of self-employment or ‘freelance’ status is a recurring theme; as is the link between freelance working and claiming welfare benefits.  Other financial issues are still relevant today, including part-time lecturing (and Income Tax status), and the taxation of prizes, grants, awards and bursaries. VAT, especially when works are consigned to/sold by galleries or agents, is also addressed in several pieces over the years; and is also considered in the context of the introduction of the European Single Market in 1993.

Artists Resale Right/Droit De Suite. The progress of artists’ resale royalty right legislation in mainland Europe, California, and the UK over three decades, is covered: the campaign by artists lobbying for the introduction of this economic right in the UK in 1993; the EU Commission’s proposal (1996) and adoption (2001) of a Directive (legal requirement) that all Member States introduce this right into their domestic laws by 2006. Artists Resale Right became law in the UK on 14 February 2006, and gives artists the legal right to receive a small share of the resale price of their works, during their lives and (from 2012) for 70 years after death.

Ways of Working. These articles examine different legal forms of practising (freelancer, partnership, limited liability company, and so on), working abroad, marketing, and bankruptcy.  A unique interview was conducted in 1979 with three generations of artists discussing together how they approached the business side of their practices: Eduardo Paolozzi (then 55); John Hoyland (then 45); Brian Clarke (then 25). A piece on Warhol’s (then) recent death in 1987 offers immediate and contemporary thoughts about the artist as a brand name and marketing phenomenon.

Studios. These pieces cover the colonisation of empty buildings by artists from the late 1970s, especially in London, and the many practical issues and legal problems involved and arising.  The so-called ‘gentrification’ of the London Docklands and its commercial development began in the 1980s, and the pressures to leave the area placed upon the artists living and working there are recorded in these articles. The 1984 Wapping Blues piece marks the effective end of this era, and explores the way artists had helped save Docklands from dereliction.

Public Policies and Commissions. The UK’s public policies in support of the visual arts are explored. The Party Political Manifesto of each successful party elected during the three decades covered is criticised and reviewed, with arguments being advanced for improvements to legislation, funding or policy, including: the introduction of artists’ statutory moral rights (achieved in 1988) and artists resale rights (achieved in 2006), artists’ public exhibition payments (voluntarily introduced by some publicly-funded galleries), and the need for common EU cultural policies.

Censorship. Time, place, social values and mores are the themes of these pieces, as they explore specific incidents where artworks have been the subject of threatened or actual censorship. Examples of such issues include the 1987 Parliamentary debates about the introduction of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (seeking to ban the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in school teaching, repealed in Scotland in 2000 and the rest of the UK in 2003); the 1994 Government’s proposals to introduce privacy laws; the 1996 self-censorship by the Hayward Gallery of two of Mapplethorpe’s photographs, for fear of prosecution for showing an ‘obscene’ work; the censorship of Art Monthly by prison authorities in Florida, USA, in 2000 on the grounds that some of its contents were pornographic.

Art After Death. Throughout art history, disputes have arisen over the works of artists after they have died: who owns what works, who inherits, who owns copyright and related merchandising rights, and whether artists’ wishes must be respected when they ask for their works to be kept together as a collection. These pieces examine some celebrated wrangles that have arisen over the decades, including the estates of Rothko, Warhol, Dali and Bacon.

Artlaw History. This section records the progress of the Artlaw Research Project from 1976, leading to the establishment of Artlaw Services in 1978 and its demise in 1984, when public funding was withdrawn following the then Thatcher Government’s severe cuts in public arts funding generally. Artlaw Services helped to establish the Arts Law Centre of Australia (still operating successfully – with public funding) and the Design and Artists Copyright Society (the UK’s not-for-profit organisation collecting artists’ copyright and resale right royalties).

It is heartening that in 2003 Artquest re-identified the need to deliver legal information and help to the visual arts community, and that it has since successfully developed and maintained its free online Artlaw services.

(C) Henry Lydiate 2003

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This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material. The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.