How to Write an Art Purchase Policy

By Aletta de Wal in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

A few days ago I heard that Christie’s would be auctioning off Elizabeth Taylor’s glamorous clothing and jewelry. So naturally I clicked over to to see how the bidding was going for a beautiful pair of 1960s cuff bracelets. . .

Alas, as I write this, the bracelets are already $1000—still five days before the auction ends. But even though I won’t be bringing those home, there’s still something we all can take away from this listing:

Head over to the bid page (if it’s still up) and scroll down until you find the “Special Notice” and “Lot Notice” sections which outline the copyright information and some additional fees – in this case, there’s a 20% buyers surcharge, plus required insurance and shipping and handling.

Before anyone can place a bid, they must agree to the terms in those two notices. And for the auction winner, all the conditions in these two notices apply.

In my opinion, every artist should have a version of these two notices on their own sales page. I call it an Art Purchase Policy. Basically, it’s a written statement that you display on your web site, indicating the terms that the buyer agrees to upon purchase.

The reason for an art purchase policy is because copyright laws and accepted practices for art sales can be confusing. It’s good business sense to put into writing exactly what you’re transferring to the buyer of your art, as well as what you’re not.

Here’s a list of 10 conditions that you might consider adding to your purchase policy:

1. Copyright ownership

Specify that, as the creator of the work, you retain copyright for 70 years beyond your life in the USA and EU, or 50 years in Canada.

So that there is no misunderstanding, you may also want to spell out what isn’t allowed under copyright: to exhibit, publish, license, reproduce or create derivative versions the work of art.

2. Permitted usage

Describe where the collector may exhibit the art, like in their home or office.

Specify any usage that requires your advance written permission, for example, to display low resolution images of the work online or publish high resolution photos of the work in print. In addition, include information on how the art must be described, labeled and attributed to you.

3. Prohibited usage

Describe where and how the collector may not exhibit the art, especially any prohibited use of the work that may hurt your reputation.

4. Warranties

Certify that you created the artwork, or that it is a studio creation involving your team, and that the materials are archival.

Assure the collector that, provided they have followed your instructions for proper care, you will personally make any necessary repairs, or supervise the repairs to be done by a third party which you approve.

5. Price stability

State that the price quoted is the final retail purchase price and is good from _____ to _____.

Describe any price adjustments or additional services that may cost extra. You may also wish to offer price discounts for preferred collectors who purchase more than one piece.

6. Price inclusions

State that the price quoted includes the art and care instructions.

If you decide to include any extras like shipping and handling, insurance in transit, or installation and lighting with the quoted price, make sure those are listed as well.

For shipping and handling, specify that you will supervise proper packaging of the art to prevent damage and advise a quote prior to dispatch.

7. Price exclusions

List any applicable state or valued added tax, so that the buyer knows it isn’t included in the quoted price.

Also list any of the extras which are specifically excluded (again, possible extras would be shipping and handling, insurance in transit, installation and lighting).

8. Payments

Describe payment options like check, money order, credit cards, PayPal or Amazon payments, and any layaway terms.

For originals, state that the check must clear the bank before you release the artwork to the buyer.

For commissions, specify dates of payments, what each payment covers, what triggers additional charges and how you calculate these charges.

9. Returns and/or exchanges

For returns, specify that the art must be returned in the original condition, without damage or repairs you did not make or approve.

Also list the time periods where the buyer can receive a full refund, versus a partial refund.

Specify any conditions for an exchange, like a work of equal size, subject, detail and price, as well as who is responsible for paying any additional insurance or shipping and handling charges.

10. Resale

California is the only US state to have a statute (California Civil Code § 986) which mandates resale royalties for artists of original works.

Simply put, when a person purchases fine artwork in California and then resells it for more than $1,000, the seller is legally required to pay five percent of the “gross sales price” to the artist who created the artwork.

If the seller can’t locate the artist within 90 days, they must deposit the royalty with the California Arts Council. (More info here.)

For artists outside the US, resale royalties are common in Europe where it is called “droit de suite” and is also currently being considered in Canada.

The terms you include are entirely your choice, and of course you can (and should) write your art purchase policy in friendly words. It doesn’t need to be threatening, but it’s just better to spell these things out ahead of time to avoid any post-sale dispute!


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