Visual arts and crafts: the urgency of making the resale right a reality

In 2016, volunteers sorting donations from the public in a used store in Ontario found a painting by the naïve painter Maud Lewis. This Nova Scotian artist who died in 1970 had spent many years in poverty, selling her works for a few dollars. After her death, her paintings gained in value and some sold for over $ 20,000. In May 2017, the work that had been discovered by chance the previous year found a taker for $ 45,000, nearly three times the amount of its evaluation.
This story resembles the one who gave rise to the Resale right in France in 1920, after the famous painting “L’Angélus” by Jean-François Millet was resold for a phenomenal sum, while the children of the artist lived in misery. With the Resale right, the French legislature intervened in favor of an equitable sharing of the wealth generated by artistic works, by ensuring that their creators (or the heirs of the latter) were paid a small percentage of their resale price.
The Resale right will soon be 100 years old and more than 80 countries have adopted it, including all those of the European Union. The Berne Convention which protects authors and their works throughout the world does provide that the Resale right must allow creators to benefit from the resale of their works, but since this right is not compulsory, it does not yet exist in several countries, including Canada, which is also a signatory to the Convention.
As works circulate more and more and are resold all over the world, the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC), of which SODRAC is a member, orchestrated a vast campaign to bring the adoption of the Resale right to a planetary scale. In this context, on April 28, 2017, SODRAC took part in the International Conference on Resale Right held at the headquarters of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva.
Artists, copyright specialists and WIPO delegates were gathered for the event, including Mr. Mattiusi Iyaituk, an artist from Ivujivik, Nunavik, accompanied for the occasion by SODRAC’s Visual Arts & Crafts department manager, Mr. Gilles Lessard. Mr. Iyaituk struck a chord with his emotional appeal for a universal Resale right, for the artists in his community but also for their children. And his experience of one day selling a sculpture for $ 250 and then finding it in a gallery offered for $ 5,000 compares to what many artists live, while they still do not receive anything when reselling their works in Canada.
Will we see the Resale right adopted in Canada? We consider it to be a social justice measure that must be adopted without delay in order to establish a better balance between artists, who deploy a lot of imagination, effort and determination to create works, and those who benefit from the wealth they generate.
Five years have elapsed since the last revision of the Copyright Act. The Act will soon be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, an exercice set to begin in November 2017. This process will provide an opportunity for SODRAC and all artists’ associations to reiterate the vitality of the Resale right for creators, and the urgency to make it a reality.

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