Saturday, 14 October 2017

I Made It, They Own It: How Copyright Robs Artists

Albert Namatjira was an aboriginal landscape painter from Central Australia. Born in 1902, he died in 1959. His story continues, though, not because of his undoubted talent as an artist but because of the legal wrangling his family had to endure over the copyright to his work.

In an effort to regain the rights to use their relative's work as they see fit, they have resorted to distributing a film, The Namatjira Project, in major Australian cities, to bring word of their plight to the public. ABC News has posted a timeline of events to explain the story.

The matter was finally resolved when a high-profile millionaire intervened, but this aspect of the story opens a huge can of worms; was racism part of the reason for appropriating the copyright on Namatjira's work in the process? The insane length of copyright terms (70 years after death of the artist) is also a factor in play here: keeping the artwork out of the public domain prevented the family from making and selling their own reproductions of Albert's work, and would have done so until 2029. Copyright is widely regarded as a cash cow but the beneficiaries will only ever be those who get to milk it.

h/t @australian

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