Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sweet and Sour

Ed Winkleman has an interesting piece in The Art Newspaper calling for the adoption in New York of a droit de suite regime, which would entitle artists to claim royalties on resales of their work by initial (or subsequent) purchasers. He argues that this would reduce "resentment over extraordinary profits" by collectors, which in turn would lead to fewer "unnecessary secrets" in the art market.

The standard economic argument against droit de suite is that, in a world where the artist retains it, presumably the initial purchaser will pay less for the work -- by something like the present value of the expected future resale royalty. So the artist is trading some guaranteed money today for a chance at a possible additional payment at some point in the future -- a bad deal. It also functions as what's been called a "negative insurance" policy: it pays off for the artist if she becomes more successful over time (as reflected in higher prices for her work); but if she is less successful, the droit de suite doesn't do her any good.