The Full Story Behind the Collapse of the Nat Geo Fine Art Galleries

Several times over the past few years, PetaPixel brought back what was at one time known as the National Geographic Fine Art Galleries, then the National Gallery of Fine Art. The company is now a shell of its original promise. This is the full story of what happened.

A summary

This saga of the National Geographic Fine Art Galleries (hereafter referred to as the Galleries for simplicity) has been going on for years and began when PetaPixel Contributor Ken Bower posted an opinion in which he expressed concern about gallery commission rates in July 2018.

“I was surprised to learn that the photographer receives only 5% of the total sale price. Artists in galleries generally receive 40-50% of the sale price. Most US states where prints are sold will earn more than the photographer in sales taxes,” Bower said at the time.

Bower also found a problem with galleries’ use of Trusted.com. After this report, any mention of Trusted was removed from the galleries website.

In January 2020, Bower discovered that all was not well at the galleries: National Geographic appeared to be suing the galleries’ owner, Bekim Veseli, for breach of contract, sue and unjust enrichment. In December, National Geographic terminated its contract with the galleries amid “legal complications”. We didn’t know much else.

Now, more than four years after Bower’s initial report, PetaPixel obtained court documents that explain exactly what happened in that deal, what the galleries were supposed to be about, why National Geographic even made a deal with Bekim Veseli, and why he subsequently terminated his contract.

The big project

Thanks to an arbitration agreement in the original contract between the two entities, a full description of exactly what happened between National Geographic and the Galleries is part of the public record.

Bekim Veseli is a self-proclaimed entrepreneur who operates various businesses through his respondent holding company BEK Holdings, LLC.

In 2014, Veseli launched National Geographic on an idea that would see a network of 50 art galleries placed in major tourist cities around the world that would sell fine art prints of National Geographic photographers’ works. Prior to closing the deal with National Geographic in 2014, he said he was involved in several ventures that turned “artistic, high-quality photographs into museum-quality works of art that can sell for several thousand dollars or so.” more”.

Veseli predicted that these galleries would generate annual profits of over $59 million. According to court documents, National Geographic “was impressed” by the pitch and entered into an agreement with Veseli on August 29, 2014. This license gave Veseli the right to use the National Geographic name, trademarks and certain photos in the framework of the company.

In exchange, Veseli would pay National Geographic a 10% royalty on total quarterly sales. Additionally and regardless of sales, Veseli’s Galleries also owes National Geographic $1.2 million a year. According to documents seen by PetaPixel, the contract specified a minimum annual payment of $1.2 million each year from 2015 to 2024, which translated into a cumulative payment to National Geographic of $12 million over the term of the license agreement before royalties on sales are calculated. If Veseli’s projections were true, it would add another $5.9 million a year.

The value of this agreement for National Geographic was therefore substantial and shows why he agreed to go into business with Veseli in the first place: he had to do very little to earn a constant annual income.

But if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is: the problems between the two groups started almost immediately.

trouble in paradise

Veseli argued that he was not getting the images he was entitled to from National Geographic and in response, withheld several royalty payments. In 2017, he asked for his license to be amended to allow his gallery employees to have a greater role in deciding which photos they would have access to and which they could sell. After months of negotiation, the deal was amended to change the process for selecting which photos galleries could use, but also required Veseli’s company to pay at least 25% of the advertised minimum sale price each quarter.

Nat Geo Galleries
A screenshot of the National Geographic Fine Art Gallery website before the National Geographic license was revoked.

Veseli’s galleries continued to miss payments as he repeatedly complained about the quality and selection of photographs National Geographic made available to his galleries.

In December 2019, Veseli’s holding company filed for arbitration claiming that National Geographic breached the contract and claimed fraud regarding the quality and selections of photos made available to it under the contract. The two sides began to discuss the disputes in mediation, but during this time Veseli continued to miss monthly payments to National Geographic. National Geographic then issued a notice of violation, but extended the due date until July 8, 2020, when the galleries owed $900,000 in unpaid royalties.

National Geographic derives its name

The two groups failed to resolve their claims in mediation and the case took three days of hearings in July 2020. Payments due by Vaseli in July, August and September 2020 have not been made. National Geographic posted notices of this breach and missed payments, but continued to extend the deadline. In October 2020, an arbitrator dismissed all claims by Veseli and his group, and later that month National Geographic terminated its license with Veseli on the grounds that he had failed to pay dues as agreed. .

In November, Veseli submitted a request to Instagram to remove “natgeo” from its handle, which was “natgeofineart” and began removing all references to National Geographic, which PetaPixel noted in a report the following month.

On December 22, 2020, National Geographic issued a cease and desist order to Veseli’s Galleries requiring it to cease infringing on National Geographic’s intellectual property in numerous ways, including by continuing to exploit the Instagram which contained “natgeo” in the handle, displaying National Geographic photos and selling prints in its stores.

On December 29, National Geographic sent a takedown request to Instagram for the “natgeofineart” account for infringement. Instagram complied.

Disputes, disagreements and missed payments

In the period between 2014 and 2020, galleries sold enough prints to pay National Geographic more than $6 million in royalties, but Veseli failed to pay a total of $1.2 million in payments minimums between 2019 and 2020, which remains unpaid.

In July, National Geographic and Veseli settled that payment, which now adds 9% interest to what is owed to National Geographic.

National Geographic did not respond to requests for comment, although that is expected given the current state of mediation between the two groups. Mediations are usually confidential and both parties usually agree not to discuss them publicly afterwards. The mediated settlement agreement is also not in the public domain, so details of how much Veseli will pay and over what time period are also not known.

At the time of publication, Veseli continues to operate the business as the National Gallery of Fine Art. The website still exists and claims two physical locations, one in Laguna Beach, California and the other in La Jolla, California – a far cry from the 50 international locations Veseli hoped to open when he struck the deal with National Geographic. It is not possible to buy prints directly on the site.

A new Instagram handle has also been created, which is simply ngfinart. His first message was published in April 2021 and his last in January 2022.


Thanks : Special thanks to Thomas Maddrey of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) for his assistance in acquiring court documents and understanding their meaning. Special thanks to Ken Bower for his years of work on this case and for noticing the mediated agreement between National Geographic and Veseli in July.


Picture credits: Header photo elements licensed via Depositphotos.

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