Federal Ruling Puts State Artist Royalty Law in Jeopardy


A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Monday against several auction houses sued by artists over failure to pay them royalties as guaranteed by California law.

The ruling could spell the end for the California Resale Royalty Act, which allowed some artists to collect 5 percent of any resale of their work if they lived in state or if the work was sold here.

Several prominent Los Angeles-area artists were plaintiffs in the case, including the estate of Robert Graham, a seminal sculptor from Mexico City who settled in Venice with his wife, actress Anjelica Huston. Graham created the Olympic Gateway at L.A.’s Memorial Coliseum for the 1984 Olympics and several other iconic works. Another prominent Venice-based artist, Laddie John Dill, was also a plaintiff.

An appellate court gutted part of the California Resale Royalty Act last year when it ruled that out of state sales were not subject to the law. The latest ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald, who said federal copyright law pre-empted the state law, could put the final nail in the coffin.

The artists’ lawyers said in a statement the ruling would be appealed.

“We have always anticipated that this important artists’ rights matter would need to be resolved by the Ninth Circuit,” Michael Bowse, an attorney at Century City-based Brown George Ross, said in the statement.

Jason Russell, an attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in downtown L.A. and counsel for defendant Christie’s, said his client was thrilled with the results and applauded Fitzgerald’s ruling. Sotheby’s and eBay Inc. were the other defendants.

“Christie’s is gratified by the extremely well-reasoned and thoughtful opinion by Judge Fitzgerald that found the Copyright Act of 1976 preempted the California Resale Royalty Act,” Russell said.

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