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EXCLUSIVE: Major Breakthrough for Artist Royalties Movement

Artists involved in one of the creative community's hottest topics has received an early Christmas present. The Big Idea reveals breaking news of a precedent setting move.


Every landslide starts somewhere.

A long-time sore point for artists in Aotearoa has developed into a push-button topic in 2021. And as the year draws to a close, there’s an announcement to savour for everyone that's eager for those who create to receive more respect and financial acknowledgement for their work beyond the initial sale.

The Big Idea can exclusively confirm that Art+Object, regarded as one of the country’s leading auction houses,  has become the first to sign up to Copyright Licensing New Zealand’s (CLNZ) auction house licensing scheme.  

This initiative has been launched to enable New Zealand artists to be paid for the reproduction of their work when it is advertised for sale on the secondary art market.

Just as Art+Object has pioneered the presentation of contemporary art and objects in an auction context, Directors Leigh Melville and Ben Plumbly are now leading the way in what many hope will begin an avalanche of artist acknowledgement, as their work increases in value.

Melville and Plumbly say they decided to practice what they preach as cheerleaders for contemporary art.

“We decided that after 16 years building the business, it was time to acknowledge a new direction.  We would like to recognise the contribution that artists make to Art+Object and the industry we work in and will be encouraging our clients to join us in this initiative by making an appropriate contribution, thus recognising the artists, without whom none of this would be possible.”

Richard Killeen, Database J, UV inkjet on plywood, signed and dated 2017. Photo: Art+Object.

This is a milestone moment for CLNZ - who are better known as the mouthpiece for licensing in the publishing industry for over 25 years.

As a not-for-profit organisation, CLNZ generates nearly $7 million each year in licensing revenue for the more than 800 local authors and publishers they represent.  

Their decision to step into the visual arts - working to support the likes of new lobby group Equity for Artists - is already paying off for the creative community.

Gordon Walters, Koru. Acrylic and PVA on canvas (1971). Photo: Object+Art.

CLNZ Chief Executive Paula Browning and Art Licensing Consultant, Caroline Stone have been crucial in orchestrating this new scheme.

“It’s a wonderful step forward for Aotearoa’s artists that Art+Object have shown leadership and respect for artists and made this decision. We look forward to other auction houses doing the same and joining in this scheme. 

“The more that our creative people are remunerated for their work, the more creativity we can have which benefits all New Zealanders.”

Set up in accordance with New Zealand and international copyright law, there is plenty of overseas precedent with 80 licensing agencies operating similar schemes for visual artists in over 60 countries including USA, Canada, most of Europe and Australia. 

Browning told The Big Idea Artists rely on multiple income streams to sustain their career - and income from Auction House sales is the first of what we hope will be an increasing number of licensing opportunities made possible through CLNZ’s services for New Zealand visual artists.

"In the past month, since the zui Arts Makers Aotearoa and Equity for Artists hosted, we’ve had over 100 new artists sign-up with CLNZ and we hope to hear from many more now that the Auction House licensing scheme is underway."

Artists need to be signed up with CLNZ to benefit from the auction house licensing scheme, which comes at no cost to the artist, who will also maintain 100% ownership of the copyright in their work.  

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

21 Dec 2021

The Big Idea Editor