Auctions Art law Market United Kingdom

New rules threaten online art market in the UK

Bidders in web auctions will have the right to return goods within 14 days

New regulations giving bidders at online auctions the right to return goods within a 14-day cooling off period is threatening to undermine the online art market in Britain. Under EU law, buyers already have the right to cancel purchases made through a website or outside the seller’s business premises where the buyer is not able to inspect the goods before the sale. Until now, auctions—whether conducted in the saleroom or online—were excluded as it was thought the right to cancel would encourage irresponsible bidding and could leave auction houses vulnerable to covering costs. Returning a work of art can also significantly decrease its value, particularly if the sale has been widely publicised.

From June, when the new Consumer Contracts Regulations are due to come into force in the UK, auction sales will also be liable to a 14-day cooling off period, unless the auction qualifies as “public”, meaning the lots can be viewed in person. Under the new rules, virtual auctions are not considered public and so online buyers will have the right to cancel.

“The right to cancel is incompatible with the auction of art and antiques,” says the art lawyer Pierre Valentin, a partner at Constantine Cannon LLP. “The new regulations might work for the sale of trinkets on eBay, but not for high-end works of art.”

The regulations will also require sellers to provide information about themselves before the sale, unless the auction is deemed “public”. Sellers at online auctions might be forced to reveal their identity.

Valentin warns that the legislation will have far-reaching implications for online sellers around the world who trade with customers protected by British—and European—laws (the UK law follows an EU directive passed in October 2011, with other member states expected to implement the legislation in 2014). “Online auction businesses will have to offer consumers the right to return goods. Commercially that’s extremely unhelpful, not only for the auctioneer, but also for sellers,” Valentin says.

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29 Jan 14
15:47 CET


It's a dumb law made for a real problem. Unfortunately the EU seems to make laws that create bigger problems than the ones that they solve. There should be protections on guarantees of what is being sold, but bidders shouldn't be allowed to simply cancel their bids for any reason. There are more problems with online bidders than sellers. Most sellers want repeat buyers and to maintain a good reputation. Bidders have no such care. This is a law that needs reworking for sure.

13 Jan 14
3:13 CET


Fantastic law. The amount of fraudulant art being sold in online auctions is staggering. Hopefully this puts a dent in the crminals bank roll. Way to go UK.

10 Jan 14
0:20 CET


Improved buyer confidence and more transparency are always the way to go. This will largely benefit the online art auctioneers. One should more be concerned about the reported sales records. These are now largely included in all main auction record databases and provide for many novice buyers often the only guidelines on volatility of the artists' market and the prices paid for the artist.

9 Jan 14
18:16 CET


More and more auctions and private dealers are using escrow companies to collect the purchase price while the piece is delivered and an inspection period has expired. This solves a lot of the problems addressed above especially if you use an online escrow company like This seems to be the natural progression of online commerce as more people are getting comfortable buying high ticket item sight unseen.

9 Jan 14
18:17 CET


Grate! If definetively doesn't match with the sofa in 14 days problem solve. If at exclusively auction house you have a refund.. when the un-exclusively people are going to be able to buy an artwork on Harrods, for a reasonable price I mean.

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