Jack Barrington’s wartime exploits published under licence. When is a release not a release?

By Delwyn Everard on 15th August 2011


Jack Barrington, cira 1945. Unknown photographer.

Second World War veteran Jack Barrington approached Arts Law in August 2010. Jack was an air gunner flying Lancaster bombers from England with 460 Squadron RAAF. The Sydney Region Aircrew Group wanted to publish a book called ‘The Spirit of Aircrew’ that would feature stories of aircrew who participated in the War. They are a voluntary organization determined to ensure that the contributions made by their members are not forgotten.


At 90 years of age, Jack's recollection of his wartime exploits is still vivid. He recounted the story of his Squadron’s operation over Denmark and Sweden on the 29th of August, 1944, one of thirty he flew during the war. His insightful, stirring description was selected for inclusion and he was asked to sign a document called a "copyright release". The covering letter stated that the intention was that he would retain all his rights of copyright in his story.


Jack approached us seeking advice on that "release" document. Jack authorized his son David to obtain advice on his behalf. We explained to David that despite the covering letter, the document did in fact probably have the result that Jack gave up all his rights! Arts Law advised that the preferable approach was for Jack to grant the publishers a "licence" of his story. We thought this was probably also what the publishers had been trying to achieve with the "release" document anyway. David made some amendments to the document after discussions with us. The amended document was accepted by Sydney Region Aircrew Group. "The Spirit of Aircrew" was published in late 2010 containing the stories of over 60 WWII Australian air force veterans including Jack Barrington DFM.


Writers (and other artists) should read any documents they are asked to sign carefully. Don't rely just on what the covering letter says – it may not correctly describe the legal effect of the document you sign. Don't rely on the title – a document called a "release" may actually be an "assignment". If you're not sure about the meaning, contact Arts Law for an explanation.


Extract from "Stettin" by Jack Barrington DFM:


"At this point I lost sight of the attacking aircraft, but as the pilot came out of this part of the evasive action, he came into view again. There he was, twin engine, twin tail fins – an ME 110 – almost straight behind us and at close range – about 75 yards.

I opened fire, which hit his starboard motor, causing some large lumps of engine cowling to peel away and some flames to appear. I think I got as big a shock as the poor German…Over the years I have hoped that the crew may have got out of their burning aircraft, but from my last sighting I very much doubt it."


Popular case studies

  • 1. Wamod Namok’s “Kangaroo” - Copyright infringement

    In 2005, reproductions of Bardayal Nadjamerrek's "Kangaroo" painting were offered for sale on the internet accompanied by statements that any sales would result in royalties being paid to the artist. Sadly, the reproductions were unauthorised and the artist had never received any royalties.

    View here.

  • 2. Mandy Davis and her “Emu” painting

    Artists in the Black client Mandy Davis, has received a settlement from a company for their infringement of her copyright and her moral rights. The case is a great example of how AITB works.

    View here.

  • 3. David Beaumont Case Study – Do I need permission to use this old photo in my work?

    David Beaumont is a Melbourne based visual artist whose works are held in private collections in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. He is a five time finalist in the ANL Maritime Art Prize and has exhibited in over a dozen solo exhibitions since 1999. In late 2010, he contacted Arts Law regarding an exhibition he was in the process of creating which addressed the controversial and highly emotional theme of terminal illness and euthanasia.

    View here.

  • 4. Picture perfect - protecting copyright when selling photographs online

    A young up and coming photographer called Arts Law for advice about starting a website to sell her photographs online.

    View here.

  • 5. Rod Nash - A cancelled commission case study

    Rod Nash was shocked when a Sydney council told him to stop work on his sculpture “Seed” which they had commissioned him to make for a public library. Rod contacted Arts Law to find out his rights.

    View here.

  • 6. Yiwarra Kuju: the Canning Stock Route

    In late 2006, the Perth-based non-profit cultural organisation FORM initiated Ngurra Kuju Walyja – One Country, One People — The Canning Stock Route Project. The project began with modest aims to present an Aboriginal history of the Canning Stock Route through art and oral history and establish economic and professional development opportunities in remote communities. The project quickly grew to unexpected proportions. Within a year 110 Aboriginal artists and contributors were involved from 10 art and culture centres across 17 remote communities in the Goldfields, Pilbara and Kimberley, with a team of nine Aboriginal and five non-Aboriginal co-curators, multimedia crew and cultural advisors. The Canning Stock Route collection, which includes around 130 artworks, was defined by the curatorial team over two years and was acquired by the National Museum of Australia in December 2008.

    View here.

  • 7. Respect and Protect Indigenous Art and Culture

    You can help ensure that Indigenous art and culture is respected and protected

    Indigenous Australians’ art and culture is a highly regarded and much publicised feature of Australian society. Commercial operators who deal with Indigenous art, play a key role in ensuring that Indigenous art and culture is respected and appreciated, rather than exploited.

    View here.

  • 8. Breaking up is hard to do … what happens when a band member leaves.

    Arts Law recently advised members of a band on the copyright status of a number of their songs after one of the band members had decided to leave the band

    View here.

  • 9. Writing about Real People

    In mid 2010, Arts Law was contacted by an author who written an autobiographical book about her experience as a victim of domestic abuse. She contacted Arts Law to obtain legal advice outlining the risks of breaching defamation laws due to her use of real life people and events in the book.

    View here.

  • 10. Carol Langley - Understanding liability when publishing images and interviews.

    Over the course of 2005, then Arts Law lawyer Katherine Giles and one of our pro bono lawyers gave several advices to writer Carol Langley about her book “Beneath the Sequined Surface”.

    View here.

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are warned that this web site may contain images of deceased people.