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Fine Art Certificates of Authenticity: Are Your's Compliant?*

The sale of fine art prints and multiples can be tricky business. Fine art limited editions may not be limited at all, or multiple series of the same 'limited' edition could exist, making the purchase less valuable then initially promised. Worst case, the print or multiple may be an out-right fraud, not being an authentic or authorized reproduction.

Apart from research or the advice of art consultants, the primary instrument on which Fine Art buyers rely is the Certificate of Authenticity. Usually issued by the gallery or dealer responsible for the primary fine art sale, it changes hands, and serves as the instrument of reliance, potentially multiple times, as the work is resold in the secondary fine art market.

So herein lies the conundrum. The issue of the certificate is controlled by the gallery or dealer. There is no independent resource to verify the truth of the certificate or that the print or multiple itself is legitimate or authentic or limited. Whilst, for the most part it may be presumed that the gallery or dealer is acting honestly, unwittingly, details may not be adequately disclosed, nor the certificate be couched in terms which provide a basis for legal reliance or recourse.

And even when a fine art certificate of authenticity is issued, is it compliant? We know many instances where the certificate issued by fine art galleries and dealers fall woefully short of what's required. In essence, even though it is intended and often relied upon as the primary instrument validating authenticity, some certificates are worded in a way which there is very little left to rely on.

Mr. Debonaire's "Campbell's Grenades", 8 x 6 in. Resin, Wood , Automotive Paint. Oliver Cole Gallery, Miami, Florida

In the United States, the law of certain states regulates the content of certificates of authenticity fine art prints and multiples. A failure to comply can mean substantial penalties for dealers and galleries. This includes, for example in California, three times the purchase price paid for the print or multiple where the dealer or gallery willfully sells or offers for sale a print or multiple in violation of the requirements set forth in California Civil Code Section 1742 and 1744.

So what are these requirements? In California, for instance, a gallery or dealer is prohibited from selling or consigning a fine art print or multiple into or from the State of California unless a certificate of authenticity is provided to the purchaser or consignee on request or, in any event, prior to the sale or consignment (Section 1742 of the California Civil Code).

The California Civil Code further defines a Certificate of Authenticity as a "...written or printed description of the multiple which is to be sold, exchanged or consigned by an art dealer..." It further requires that "...[e]very certificate shall contain the following statement: "This is to certify that all information and the statements contained herein are true and correct...".

Despite this very precise requirement, a requirement specifically intended to reflect the very purpose of certificates of authenticity as being the instrument of reliance for fine art purchasers, it is one which is very often ignored by galleries and dealers.

In addition California Civil Code Section 1742(c) requires galleries and dealers to conspicuously post a sign at their place of business in the State of California advising that California law requires the written disclosure of "certain information concerning prints, photographs and sculpture casts" and inviting prospective purchasers to request this information before purchasing.

So what information does a Certificate of Authenticity need to contain? In California, in addition to the 'true and correct' confirmation we noted earlier, Section 1744 of the Civil Code lays this out in specific detail. This information includes (and the following is not an exhaustive list):

  1. The name of the artist;

  2. if the artist's name appears on the print or multiple, a statement whether it was was signed by the artist;

  3. a description of the process and, in the case of a photographic edition, the material used in producing the multiple;

  4. in the case of certain prints and multiples which are photomechanical or photographic reproductions of an image produced in a medium other than the reproduction and for a purpose other than the creation of the print or multiple concerned, a statement of this information and the mediums involved;

  5. where 4, above is applicable, and the multiple is not signed, a statement whether the print or multiple, or the edition concerned was authorized by the artist;

  6. if the artist was no longer living at the time the master used to create the print or multiple was made, as statement to that effect;

  7. if a master used in the creation of the edition concerned was used to produce a prior limited edition, a statement to this effect, together with the total number of multiples and proofs of all other editions created from that master; and

  8. in the case of a limited edition, information including the size of the edition, the authorized maximum number of signed or unsigned impressions, and artist's or other proofs in the edition. For certain prints and multiples, this statement is an express warranty by the dealer or gallery that no additional multiples of the same image ", have been produced in ...[the]... or in any other limited edition (Section 1744(a)(10)(b)).

These requirements reflect fundamental concerns in buying prints and multiples. Capable of easy reproduction, particularly with easily accessible and technological advanced means of reproduction, the potential for for fraud or mistake in authenticity is obvious.

Collecting fine art prints and multiples depends on having a reliable source of this information. With each dealer or gallery traditionally issuing his own certificate of authenticity, there leaves the potential for abuse or error. What is needed is a decentralized or independent means of verifying or authenticating the certificate, which as these requirements show is is an essential instrument in selling prints and multiples. This becomes even more relevant in the secondary fine art markets where fine art prints and multiples are sold on, and where a subsequent purchaser relies on the original certificate of authenticity.

And for the fine art gallery or dealer, having compliant certificates of authenticity is a must.

The Fine Art Ledger works to address each of these concerns. By providing a platform which uses the blockchain to issue authenticated certificates of authenticity, and a very -user-friendly interface to produce cryptographically stamped certificates of authenticity, which the dealer or gallery can customize in its own name, The Fine Art Ledger not only provides a potentially referenceable system of authenticating certificates of authenticity for collectors, but also helps dealers and galleries be compliant.

To get started, simply sign up for your account on The Fine Art Ledger and begin producing blockchain authenticated fine art certificates of authenticity for the works in your inventory or your collection.

* This post is informational only and is not intended to comprise legal advice, nor should you rely on the information contained in this post. When considering matters of a legal nature, it is always important to consult with an attorney to advise on the specific matters concerned before proceeding further.


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