Christie’s Challenges French Court Ruling over Paying Artists’ Resale Rights

Christie’s and France’s associations of antiques dealers and galleries have been embroiled in an eight-year legal battle over artists’ resale rights. On March 24, a French court ruled that they must be paid by sellers, Vincent Noce of the Art Newspaper reports. Christie’s plans to appeal the decision, arguing it may hurt the contemporary art market.

In 2009, the Syndicat National des antiquaires (SNA) and the Comité des galeries d’art filed a lawsuit against Christie’s for unfair competition and abuse of its dominant position after the auction house informed buyers at its 2009 Yves Saint Laurent–Pierre Bergé sale that they were responsible for the resale rights. Dealer Patrick Bongers, the president of the gallery owners’ union at the time, said that French law requires the sellers to pay the royalties, and if Christie’s refuses to, it gives the auction house “an unfair advantage in attracting collectors.”

The SNA lost its first case against Christie’s but won an appeal in 2012. In 2015, the French Supreme Court stated that royalties could be shared by the buyers and sellers “as long as the artists’ rights were duly respected.” The most recent judgment states the seller must be solely responsible in order to “safeguard healthy competition between the national operators.”

Since the 1920s, sellers in France have been required by law to pay artists or their heirs a marginal revenue for the resale of their works for up to seventy years after their deaths. More than sixty-five countries, excluding the United States and China, have followed France’s example and adopted similar laws.