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Art and law: Rules of online art auctions

Publication date: 15 August 2017
Does your auction house provide online art auctions? Is art being auctioned to consumers via your website? In this event your online auction platform has to meet strict requirements. What are they?

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Consumer protection at online auctions

Online auctions are governed by different rules than public auctions. In online auctions consumers enjoy additional protection, just like in online art sales. The art buyer enjoys more rights for instance, the auction platform has to meet more obligations, and sanctions in the event of failure to comply with these obligations are more severe.

Please note, the additional consumer protection only applies if the art seller is a professional trader (such as a gallery, auction house or art dealer). If the seller is a private person, the rules for public auctions apply. If the seller remains anonymous, the auctioneer will be considered as the seller. Thus, in the event he or she is a professional seller, consumer law will be applicable.

Information obligation

One of the obligations applying to online auction platforms is the information obligation. Even before the consumer can submit a bid for an art work, the consumer must be informed about the following:

  • The data of the platform and the art seller, such as trade name, registered address, telephone number, fax number and e-mail address.
  • The key features of the works to be auctioned (such as the name of the artist, the year the work was made, materials used for making it).
  • The total price of the artworks (including taxes, surcharge/auction costs, delivery costs, etc.).
  • Modalities of payment and delivery and the time limits that will apply.
  • The reflection period the consumer is entitled to.
  • How the purchase agreement can be terminated by the consumer.

Reflection period

If the highest bidder has received the artwork, he or she has a time limit of 14 days to consider whether or not he or she is satisfied with it. Within this period the buyer can return the artwork without having to give reasons. Then, the consumer must be reimbursed the purchase price as soon as possible but at least within 30 days. The consumer can address both the seller and the auction platform with regard to this.

The right of withdrawal must be stated on the website. If the consumer is not informed about the right of withdrawal, the time limit within which this right can be invoked can be extended by a maximum of 12 months.

Presence of notary / bailiff

A supervising civil-law notary or bailiff must be present in online art auctions. He can inspect the data of the auctions and bidders (on a sample basis) and thus ensure fair auctions.

What can we do for you?

Do you need legal advice on online art auctions? Or would you like to know whether your auction platform meets all legal requirements? We will be happy to assist you. We can also help you drafting General Terms & Conditions for online art auctions. Please contact:

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