If you’re paying a (so-called) art gallery to show your work, or you’re paying by the metre for your wall space, then you’re not in a professional artist-gallerist relationship and you’re not in the art world; you are a customer of a service industry, and customers in the UK (and of course elsewhere) have clearly defined and legally enforceable rights. One of the sock puppets in this notorious thread about Debut Contemporary mockingly taunted that if anybody really thought pay-to-play vanity galleries were doing anything wrong, or that anybody could do anything about their conduct, then we should go to the Office of Fair Trading. Having recently gone through the OFT’s guidance on the subject, I can wholeheartedly concur with our sock puppet friend because since the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 came into force, companies that engage in unfair or deceptive business practices can be forced to comply with reasonable business ethics, and face civil or criminal prosecution if they don’t.
Download and read the entire document at the link– it’s worth it just for your general information when dealing with any company or service. But a number of practices mentioned definitely reminded me of things I’ve seen in mailouts, “opportunities” (sic) to win art prizes, and on the shoddy websites belonging to the vanity galleries that seem to be popping up almost every month, like poisonous mushrooms. I’m sure many of you have seen this nonsense, too. Let’s play vanity gallery bingo. Does the great unsolicited offer to show your work (for a small fee…) contain any of these?
NOTE: All following information except my notes are extracted verbatim from the OFT’s guidance document, intended as pointers and for general information only. None of this is a substitute for familiarising yourself with the actual document and the real legislation first hand. Don’t ever rely on a blog or on something you might have read somewhere at some point if you’re going to court; take proper, professional legal advice if you think you need it.
Commercial practices which are considered unfair in all circumstances and which are prohibited.
(7) Falsely stating that a product will only be available for a very limited time, or that it will only be available on particular terms for a very limited time, in order to elicit an immediate decision and deprive consumers of sufficient opportunity or time to make an informed choice.
(19) Claiming in a commercial practice to offer a competition or prize promotion without awarding the prizes described or a reasonable equivalent.
(20) Describing a product as ‘gratis’, ‘free’, ‘without charge’ or similar if the consumer has to pay anything other than the unavoidable cost of responding to the commercial practice and collecting or paying for delivery of the item. (Example) A trader advertises a ‘free’ gift. He then tells consumers that in order to receive their ‘free’ gift they need to pay an extra fee. This would breach the CPRs (consumer protection regulations).
NOTE: My specific vanity gallery example, one based on a recent promotional email that was sent to me, would be a “free showcase” or “free mailout” that you can only get by paying a membership, subscription or service fee. This clearly and unequivocally violates subsection 20. (more…)