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Guide to Art law

Owning, buying, and selling art can be a highly complicated situation since it involves an unregulated market that encompasses various aspects of law. Art can also be very popular for international business, meaning that the law relating to any artwork can involve various jurisdictions. It is a niche area and so it is important to ensure you have a lawyer that understands the different laws that apply in this area.

The world of art can be very appealing and attracts investors that are often prepared to spend vast amounts of money on individual unique items. However, this means that having the right lawyer to provide legal advice and representation is crucial to ensure that there is adequate protection when purchasing art since these assets can be hard to value and often have vague origins.

Who needs advice in relation to art law?

A specialist art lawyer can advise you on art law. Every party involved needs to ensure that they have the right level of protection in relation to the law, including:

  • The artist
  • Buyers
  • Sellers
  • Galleries
  • Auction houses

For the buyer, one of the areas that is often a concern is ensuring the authenticity and provenance of a piece of art, especially where they were created many years ago, often in other centuries.

There is an added area of concern in relation to any artwork that was, or may have been, looted during World War II, and buyers will often want added protection in any sales contract for art in relation to this.

Using art as an investment

Art is increasingly being used as another form of investment and so transactions relating to these high value pieces requires very careful management and advice. It is incredibly important to get strong advice from reputable advisors who can assist in avoiding difficult disputes relating to the artwork, including those relating to valuations.

Art can also be used to raise capital and so preserving their value is very important. Contracts in relation to the sale or loan of artwork need to be meticulously drawn up to ensure that your rights remain protected.

It is also important to consider wills and succession law in relation to relevant artwork. How the artwork is owned, for example via trusts, partnerships or charities, can also add an additional element of complication requiring an expert lawyer to give you legal advice.

Areas of law that may arise requiring advice from a specialist art lawyer

It is very important that you take advice from a lawyer that understand that the law in relation to art, which can involve multiple areas:

  • Issues surrounding provenance of art as well as authenticity, which will possibly include the law relating to implied warranties on title, provenance and attribution
  • Contract law for the sale and purchase of art
  • The law surrounding wills and succession planning when considering what will happen to art
  • Copyright law
  • Nuptial agreements to protect art acquired outside of the marriage
  • Insurance law related to art
  • Tax law for any art purchased or sold including export and import tax as well as VAT
  • Financing agreements and legal structures in relation to owning the art (for example, trusts and charities)
  • Reputation and privacy law surrounding art, particularly with very prominent art pieces

Where there is an international element, there can be other areas of the law that need to be considered in relation to art that you should receive advice on.

Art crime

It is possibly surprising to know that art crime is heavily linked to lucrative money laundering in this country (second only in this country to drug dealing). Fakes and forgeries are unfortunately big business in the criminal world and the international appeal of art transactions adds to the complexity of these cases. This is a complicated area of law that is rapidly changing and so ensuring you have a specialist lawyer is vital to ensure your interests are protected under the law.

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

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