Droit de suite (English translation: right to follow) is a unique right for artists that exists in some countries' copyright law. It ensures that the creator of an artistic work, or their heirs, receives part of the resale value of a physical work of art.
What is Droit de Suite?
The concept of droit de suite is fairly straightforward. Every time an artist's work is resold within a certain statutorily-defined time period (in most jurisdictions, the life of the artist plus 50 to 70 years), the artist is entitled to receive a small percentage of the resale value. The percentage of royalties varies from country to country, with some payments going directly to the artist and others going into a general arts fund.
The only major jurisdiction with droit de suite legislation in North America is the state of California, where s. 986 of the Civil Code has provided since 1977 for resale royalties of 5 percent on sales over $1,000 (USD). Australia, the Philippines, and EU countries all have droit de suite in specified circumstances.
A Droit de Suite Scenario
For a practical understanding of this concept, let's look at a scenario where droit de suite does not apply and where it does.
- Early in her career, an artist sells a painting for $1,000. Many years later, with the artist now established, that same work is resold for $25,000. Under the copyright laws in most countries outside the European Union (EU) borders, the seller of the painting pockets that extra $24,000 and pats themselves on the back for having made such a good investment all those years ago, while the artist — the creator of the work — receives nothing.
- In the same scenario in a country where this right applies, the artist could be entitled to receive a percentage of the resale value.
You may also be interested in our article Moral Rights in U.S. Copyright Law.
Opposition to Droit de Suite Royalties
In practice, however, the administration of droit de suite resale royalties isn't so straightforward. Opponents of it point to a number of complicating factors when arguing against the introduction of the right into intellectual property law.
- Their main concern is that trade in art will move to those jurisdictions lacking the right.
- Another of their concerns is that it's easy to circumvent the law in some jurisdictions, due to how it's drafted; for example, in some countries, sales between private individuals (i.e., not at auction and not by a dealer) are exempt.
- The final concern is that the mechanisms necessary to collect the royalty payments are unwieldly and unduly bureaucratic, and the costs involved in administering such a scheme would far outweigh any benefits for the artists.
Support for a Droit de Suite Right
Those supporting droit de suite point to the fairly successful implementation of the right in the EU and the state of California as proof that the concept is not entirely without merit.
- They note that, first, while it does make some economic sense that trade in art may shift to jurisdictions without the right, and especially in those cases where the right's presence is the only differentiating factor, there's little evidence that this is, in fact, happening.
- Second, a well-drafted law would protect an artist's right to droit de suite in as many circumstances as possible without being unduly restrictive on the sale and transfer of art.
- Finally, while administrative measures to collect resale royalties are substantial (in the EU, the costs vary from 10 to 40 percent of the royalties collected), these are comparable to administrative costs currently incurred by those bodies which collect other types of royalties, such as reproduction and performance rights.
How Christie's Auction House Deals with Droit de Suite
Christie's lists artists of many European countries as well as the United Kingdom as those who benefit from droit de suite. When their work of art (other than furniture, jewelry and books), or a copy that's one of a limited number made with the artist's authorization, is sold Christie's collects an amount equal to the resale royalty from the buyer and gives this to the relevant collecting agency. On Christie's invoice to the buyer of the work of art, the amount is set out as Artists Resale Right. For further information, visit Christie's droit de suite information page.
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