What was the Artists Union?

Notes by Avis Saltsman -
Page Five

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But the fundamental issue was always resale rights. This is a form of copyright for artists, whereby the artist receives a percentage of the resale price when their work is sold on. Although standard practice on Mainland Europe, it is vigorously opposed by the Dealer Network in Britain. This report explains all...


At a special meeting in December 1979, the AU National Executive Committee (NEC) resolved:

"That the NEC powers its national officers to proceed with all the necessary arrangements, and consultations, without prior commitment, in order to prepare for the establishment of a UK equivalent to the French SPADEM”
Why did the NEC decide to commit its slim reserves and personnel to establishing such a society?:

During l979 Claude Picasso (President), Vladimir Duchemin (Director) and Nicole Laurent (Droits d’Auteur, Le chef de Departement), of the Societe de la Propriete Artistique et des Dessins et Modele (SPADEM), prepared the ground for the introduction of a visual artists rights collecting society. Since they introduced themselves to Roland Miller and myself at the ICA/EEC Conference (as reported last year) they subsequently held meetings with such organisations as the Arts Council, Artlaw and the Royal Academy. Finally, prompted by John Alexander Sinclair (Chairman, Arts Registration Committee) they courted the AU.
In early December (‘79) Claude Picasso approached the AU to initiate the setting up of such a society. SPADEM’s haste at this time was that the ground was ripe, they feared a collecting society might be started by a lobby of galleries, publishers and auctioneers, constituting a "pseudo” society with famous artists who depend on them, and thus the true aims of a UK SPADEM could well be frustrated, and the ensuing society would perhaps not uphold the tenets of the Confederation Internationale des Societes d’Auteurs et Compositeurs (CISAC), the umbrella ’body’ for the separate collecting societies for the rights of composers, writers and artists, throughout the world.

The hub of the CISAC Constitution is that its member societies should comprise of ‘authors’, the French collective term for composers, writers and artists) and their heirs only, and that 60% of their respective boards of management must be ‘authors’. In England the composers have the Performing Rights Society, and the writers have the recently formed authors Lending and Copyright Society (ALCS), but there is no such society for visual artists.

‘Rights’ in a work are financial and moral, and have been enshrined in law since the turn of the century. Financially, a UK society would collect the fees from copyright and reproduction, but not as yet Artist’s Resale Royalties ARR or Droite de Suite) on behalf of its members. The Moral Right is one enjoyed by French artists - the artist, although selling a work, retains the moral right in it after a sale, which means the purchasers cannot alter, deface or destroy it.

UK artists are generally ‘so grateful’ to sell, show or have their work reproduced that they daren’t pursue these rights (SPADEM have been collecting fees in this country for their French artists, for example from publishers for years). A collecting society would do it ‘collectively’ in the case of moral rights, could set precedents by taking action against an infringer.

It would not be in the interest of a pseudo collecting society (as above) to commit it self, in its constitution, to campaigning for the British Government to introduce ARR or Moral Rights and enshrine them in the law of this country.

On 3rd January 198O, at a meeting called by the AU, between SPADEM, the Arts Council of GB, Arts Registration Committee (ARC), Artlaw, the ALCS and ourselves, it was agreed that a steering committee be formed ‘Visual Arts Rights Steering Committee’ (VARSC), with myself as Convener. It was decided that: ALCS (observers), ARC, Artists General Benevolent Institution, Artlaw, Arts Council of GB, Association of Artists and Designers in Wales (AADW), AU, Crafts Council, Federation of British Artists, International Association of Art, Royal Academy, Royal Institute of British Architects, Royal Photographic Society of GB, Society of Industrial Artists and Designers and subsequently the Welsh Arts Council, (and further organisations will be pursued), be invited to be represented on the Steering Committee.

Next day, at the Artlaw Conference, Roland Miller gave a paper on Moral Rights of the artist, and also proposed a motion (seconded by John Alexander Sinclair) supporting in principle the establishment of the society, which was passed unanimously. On 7th January I was shown around the Paris offices of SPADEM, and took notes on the working of the different departments. On 20th June, Roland Miller representing the AU, and myself the VARSC, gave evidence in Brussels to the European Commission on ARR, which both the VARSC and the AU will have to fight for.

The ALCS kindly allowed us to use their Constitution (Memorandum and Articles of Association) for the basis of the VARSC draft.
Mem/Art/Ass and the AADW generously advanced £2OO for the AU solicitor (in touch with the AADW solicitor) to prepare the draft.

These have now been agreed and the SPADEM solicitor has perused them with CISAC. When CISAC have formally accepted them, the procedure for establishing this non-profit making company will start, the first step of which is for 7 subscribers to sign the documents.

The Subscribers, VARSC and SPADEM, will be meeting later in October to discuss the composition of the board, and finance. By its nature the collecting society will be self-supporting, but SPADEM have agreed to advance finance to launch the embryo society, and VARSC have recommended that all money’s so far spent by individuals and groups should be refunded by the society when launched.

The members of the future society will be individuals only, in all walks of visual life, as above, except where an organisation has become an heir of a particular artist, in which case the organisation will have one voice to represent that deceased artist.

Incidentally, SPADEM divide their membership up into 3 sections:

Section I Graphic and Plastic Arts (painters, sculptors, engravers , designers, architects. . .)

Section II Photography (illustrator photographers, reporter photographers, advertising & fashion photographers...)

Section III Applied arts (art craftsmen, decorators, indoor architects, industrial aestheticians, creation officers, firms, or establishments . . . . ).”

The Steering Committee can only recommend details such as this, to those individuals who come together to form the first Board. It will then be for that Board to come to these initial decisions, and subsequently all decisions will be taken at Annual General Meetings of the new society.

May I offer many thanks to Roland Miller, for all his help and encouragement, and to Richard Mann, who on top of all his National Secretary work, has not only helped out, but also taken the minutes at all the VARSC meetings.

CHARLES GOSFORD September 1980.

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Contact: Avis Saltsman (or Saltzmann), 17 Gerrard Road, Islington, London N1 8AY +44(0)20 7359 6294 or e-mail her
URL: http://www.art-science.com/Avis/au/au5.html
Last revised 14/10/2002 Copyright: Avis Saltsman 1998 - 2002