Australia’s Artists Resale Royalty (ARR ) scheme has so far cost taxpayers $2.2 million in direct support. And over many years the publicly funded lobbyists for this scheme, headed up by the National Association for the Visual Arts Ltd, have additionally spent a lot of public money on lobbying for their scheme. ARR is a very political project. It is imposed by law on a lot of small ‘sole trader’ businesses; it imposes quasi-compulsory collective management on artists and also imposes a restraint of trade on an art market where profit margins are generally quite thin. ARR is not an ‘art project’.
The fact that these publicly funded arts organisations have, for years, been free to use public money, intended for art projects, to conduct a very partisan political campaign really rankles.
The lobbyists for compulsory ARR are involved in a ‘last ditch’ lobbying campaign for their compulsory ARR scheme to “continue”. As always there is a lot of fudge and misleading by omission to their advocacy. In particular they continue to claim that the majority of royalty payments, to date, have gone to indigenous artists: in this case to date is a very very large lump of fudge.
In the first years of the scheme’s operation, most of the royalty payments raised were on resales of indigenous art. However because resales of indigenous art make up only about 10-15% of total art resales by value, it is inevitable that in time more and more of the royalty payments will come from the resales of non-indigenous art. And it is also inevitable that the distribution of royalty payments by value must, eventually, map to the universal truth that when it comes to the resale of art: artworks by the top 20 artists most favoured by the market get most of the money and the next 80 or so of bestselling artists get most of the remainder.
The agency charged with administering the scheme, the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL), recently released some updated figures and information about the operations of the ARR. I also noted that this detailed information was not made available at the time of the ARR review process. The following analysis is based on the figures provided within that report.
Generally speaking, analysis of the top 21 payments confirms that this scheme is already starting to follow the usual market pattern: a handful of sales of a handful of top 20 artists constitute most of the total value of art resales and therefore most of the total value of collected Art Resale Royalties. This is despite the fact that the scheme apparently only currently affects about 10% of resales (according to CAL’s report). Obviously as the scheme starts to affect more and more of the majority of art resales, the skewing of the distribution to a handful of artists such as Whitely, Nolan, Williams etc will inevitably become more pronounced. It would only take the scheme to collect another 10 to 20 high-end sales in the next year, for it to push the distribution to the handful of artists most favored by the market towards 30% or more.
The breakup of the top 21 resale royalty payments is :