Nov 5, 2022 - Economy & Business

The dream of resale royalties in the art world

Animated illustration of an ornate frame with falling dollar signs

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

One longstanding dream of artists is that they might somehow be able to share in the future appreciation of their art, even after it has been sold. Once again, technologists have a solution to sell them.

Why it matters: One of the great promises of NFTs was that they could incorporate resale royalties into the art itself. Recently, however, that dream has started to fall apart.

  • In the real-world art world, however, where resale royalties barely exist, the dream is still alive.

Driving the news: NFT marketplaces like Magic Eden, Sudoswap, x2y2, and LooksRare are competing to attract buyers by removing the requirement to pay royalties to creators; even the creators themselves are beginning to remove royalties.

  • Arcual, however, a new company backed by the parent company of Art Basel, this week joined Fairchain in trying to bring blockchain technology to the high-end art market — and to bring resale royalties along with it.

The big picture: There's very little evidence that collectors and galleries would like to move to a world of resale royalties, or would not seek to circumvent them in much the same way as has happened with NFTs.

  • That said, the Arcual smart contracts are linked to real-world sales contracts, written under Swiss law — which means, contra NFTs, that if collectors try to avoid the resale royalties, they would be in violation of a legally enforceable contract.

The bottom line: If collectors actually supported resale royalties, they would have implemented them by now. And without collectors' support, it's hard to see the idea catching on.

  • Proponents of royalties should remember the golden rule: She who has the gold, makes the rules.
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