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Viscopy v Sotheby's

Written by Thomas Mould on 28 July 2015

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The Australian copyright collection agency Viscopy has begun court proceedings against Sotheby’s Australia accusing them of infringing copyright of one of its clients, John Olsen.

Viscopy filed a claim with the NSW Federal Court in Sydney on 3 July alleging Sotheby’s knowingly published images of three Olsen paintings in a catalogue without permission.

Viscopy acts for 43% of the Australian and New Zealand artists and collects around 2.5 million Australian Dollars a year.

After Olsen’s family failed to stop his pictures coming to market, they told Viscopy to withdraw permission to reproduce the images. Sotheby’s Australia ignored the termination and published images in their April 2015 sale catalogue and online.

Viscopy Chairman, Tim Denny said in a statement: “What is beyond doubt is that Sotheby’s has breached the copyright of John Olsen. Viscopy liaises with auction houses to licence its artists’ works. In this instance, Dr Olsen did not give permission. That does not mean that Sotheby’s can simply go ahead anyway.”

Sotheby’s, who pay around 35,000 Australian Dollars per year, are expected to argue that auctioneers don’t need to apply for copyright when publicising a work for sale. Their lawyer John Morrissey said: “There is an implied licence granted by Dr Olsen to any purchaser of his work to enable that work to be publicised for sale.

The case will be heard on 28 July. 

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