What was the Artists Union?

Notes by Avis Saltsman -
Page Nine

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The Report of the 4th Annual Conference continued...


Roland Miller, Artists Union representative.

Since the British Copyright Council approved the Artists Union application to join the British Copyright Council on July 18th 1979, the Union has become heavily involved in the field of copyright and associated rights, especially in the European context. It is in this area of concern that I think the value of our membership of the BCC lies.

The membership of the BCC (27 bodies at the last count) is constituted approximately of 50% organisations like ourselves, eg representing the actual producers of a creative work - writers, musicians, photographers, designers. The following unions are represented; ACTT, Equity, Musicians Union, NUJ, the Writers Guild. Also represented are bodies such as the Publishers Association, the Association of Authors Agents and Music Publishers Association. It is interesting to note that no comparable bodies in the exclusive field of the visual arts are members of the BCC, so that for the moment the visual arts are represented by their own associations, rather than by interests of those who handle the work of visual artists in a commercial sense. Should legislation be eventually passed in Great Britain that puts visual artists in the same protected category as the musicians’, actors’, journalists’ and other writers’ output (all of which is protected by legislation enforceable by collecting societies against exploitation or resale or redistribution, then I think we could expect bodies representing art dealers, auctioneers and gallery owners to become very interested in membership of a body such as the BCC.

It is clear to anyone who considers the way composers collect rewards for their work, that bodies such as the Music Publishers Association are essential to the chasing up of money due from the dissemination of ‘music’ in sheet form. In a recent (June 80) court hearing the MPA successfully sued Wolverhampton Corporation because schools in the Corporations Education system had been using photocopies of sheet music illegally, and in breach of the Code of Practice relating to photocopying, the counsel for the MPA said in court:

"Since the advent of the photocopying machine, the Association had been concerned about protecting its members rights, on which the living of the composers, writers and music arrangers depend. Unless music users behave fairly, publishers would cease to be able to publish and pay royalties. Composers and others would no longer be able to make a living.”

If visual artists are ever to have a serious chance of earning a living in the way that composers may, then I believe they will need this sort of protection. The apparently meagre results of our involvement with bodies such as the BCC must be set against the long-term strategy, which is tied up with the setting up of a visual artists rights collecting society similar to the Authors’ Lending and Copyright Society Ltd - which is also a member of the BCC. It seems unlikely that any body similar to the Music Publishers’ Association will emerge to champion the rights of artists.

NOTE: other ‘art’ bodies on the BCC:
Association of Illustrators
Institute of Incorporated Photographers
Royal Academy of Arts
Society of Industrial Artists and Designers.


The draft agreement was completed by the Working Party last December, and approved after discussion by the N.E.C. in January.

It is based on arrangements made by Wessex Branch members with Reading Municipal Art Gallery for an exhibition held last year. It is essentially an agreement designed for the public gallery, where artists exhibit primarily for prestige reasons rather than actual picture sales.

Outside the public sector there is a vast range of private or semi-private exhibition spaces - the gallery in Central London, which may deal with only a very small number of artists on individual contracts, then up and down the country the very wide range of private galleries operate at a very modest level with varying success. A number of these are run as non-profit-making trusts, and of these some receive occasional support from RAAs or private charities. At the bottom of the range there is the gallery run on a shoestring and with very low overheads on a semi-amateur basis - these in fact are often run by artists themselves as a sideline.

Many of these galleries are well run and provide the artist with quite a good livelihood, by direct sales, but in some instances the business methods and general inefficiency of others provide the unwary artists with many pitfalls. Certainly the mutual price agreement on any exhibition is vital, and somewhat similar clauses as in the ‘public galleries’ draft, could be drawn up for each individual case, but the extraordinary variety in the private field makes it difficult to envisage a single contract that could cover comprehensively all situations adequately. However I hope that AU will study these questions. With wider experience (and better resources) we could eventually offer an advice service to artists seeking ANY outlet to the public for his work. This would be our most valuable contribution to improving the standing of the independent artist in this community.


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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/au9.html
Last revised 14/10/2002 Copyright: Avis Saltsman 1998 - 2002