Artists sue auction houses over royalties law

AP News

10/20/2011 6:59:03 PM - AP News

Famed New York painter Chuck Close and other artists are suing Sotheby's, Christie's and eBay, contending the auctioneers willfully violated a California law requiring royalty payments on sales of their works.

The three federal suits filed Tuesday seek class-action status to represent many other artists and demand unspecified royalties and damages _ which could total hundreds of thousands of dollars given current art prices.

The suits were filed on behalf of Close _ best known for his enormous photorealistic paintings _ along with Los Angeles artist Laddie John Dill, and the estate of late sculptor Robert Graham. Graham's works include the ceremonial gate for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that was commissioned for the 1984 Olympics and features nude statues modeled on some of the athletes.

A foundation of late California painter Sam Francis also is named as a plaintiff in the suits against Christie's and eBay Inc.

The Los Angeles Daily Journal first reported some of the suits.

The 1977 California Resale Royalties Act grants artists or their estates 5 percent of the proceeds from resale of their works if the sale is made in California or the seller is a resident. The law applies only to original paintings, drawings, sculpture or glasswork by living artists or those who have been dead for less than 20 years.

The lawsuits contend the auctioneers engaged in a "pattern of conduct" intended to conceal that the sale or seller was in California.

"We believe that we have meaningful defenses to the claims asserted and they will be vigorously defended," Sotheby's said in a statement Thursday.

"Although Christie's has yet to be served with the complaint, it views the California Resale Royalties Act as subject to serious legal challenges. Christie's looks forward to addressing these issues in court," the company said in a statement.

An email seeking comment from eBay was not immediately returned.