3 May
Photo by Aditya Joshi on Unsplash

Advocacy at Arts Law – how we help protect your rights

Arts Law is a trusted advocate for artists’ rights and we recommend changes to the law to benefit the arts sector. Our goal is to improve the rights of artists and their access to justice. We also aim to ensure recognition and better protection and respect for Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP).

As Australia’s only community legal centre for the arts we are in a unique position to connect the arts world and legal community. Arts Law’s powerful voice comes from our experience working with Australian artists for over 38 years.

Read about the key areas Arts Law has been focusing on in our law reform and advocacy work and what we plan to keep working on in 2022:

Copyright reforms

Earlier this year Arts Law made a submission to the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Communications on the exposure draft of the Copyright Amendment (Access Reform) Bill 2021 and corresponding discussion paper.

Our submission focuses generally on the lack of protection for ICIP and the adverse impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, and the tendency of the reforms to undercut the economic interests of copyright owners. 

We’re watching this space carefully for further updates. Read our full submission here.

‘Fake Art Harms Culture’ Campaign and the Productivity Commission Inquiry into the Indigenous Visual Arts Market

Arts Law has been advocating for laws to protect Indigenous Cultural Intellectual Property (ICIP) for decades. In more recent years we have focused on this issue more extensively and put significant resources into this work.

The ‘Fake Art Harms Culture’ campaign was created to address the concern of widespread sale of works that have the ‘look and feel’ of being Indigenous but actually have no connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities – we have been working on this campaign since 2016.

To date, Arts Law has had extensive involvement with the Productivity Commission on the Inquiry into the Indigenous Visual Arts Market. in early 2022 Arts Law’s made a joint submission with the Copyright Agency and Indigenous Art Code. It took a great deal of resources from all three organisations to put this comprehensive submission together. Central to the submission were three major reform areas that we presented to the Commission for consideration: 

  1. Amendments to the Australian consumer law to create new offences for those engaging in the trade of ‘Aboriginal-style’ art products with no connection to First Nations artists or communities.
  2. The recognition of Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP) in legislation.
  3. Analysis of the effects a mandatory code of practice would have if implemented in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art market. 

Our submission also addressed issues of exploitation, from bad licensing arrangements through to working conditions for artists, the resale royalty, and the importance of funding arts and other support organisations who provide critical resources and assistance to artists. Read more about Fake Art Harms Culture here.

Prizes and competitions – increasing fairness for artists

Arts Law regularly reviews arts related prizes and competitions for artists in Australia to give them a rating to help artists navigate whether they are fair. We had great success in 2021 where 10 of the organisers agreed to work with us to make their terms and conditions fairer for artists.

Prizes and competitions have become an important source of income and opportunity for artists in light of cancellations and closures. This work has a huge impact on artists rights as we work with organisers to make conditions fair for every artist who enters their competition. This creates significant benefits to a broad spectrum of artists.

Protection of Aboriginal Heritage 

We have been working to raise awareness of inadequacies of Aboriginal Heritage Laws both at a Commonwealth and State Government level. Over the last few years we have made submissions to the Juukan Gorge inquiry and to State Government Departments regarding law reform.

Flora and fauna laws and the impact on artists

Australia has strict laws that aim to protect plants and animals that are threatened, native, vulnerable or endangered. This is a particularly important issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island artists who often use native seeds, feathers, skins, bones, grasses and woods in their artwork. It can also affect non-Indigenous artists wanting to create artwork using plant and animal matter. The current system and laws are extremely confusing and difficult for people to navigate. Arts Law has created a suite of resources to assist artists (and are in the process of updating them for each state and territory). Watch this space for updates.

Mishandling of Estates by the Public Trustee

Advocating for better treatment of estates and beneficiaries by the public trustee’s offices across Australia. Ongoing issues around delays, the lack of transparency and mis-management of estates by public trustees has come up frequently and has a particularly adverse effect on the estates of First Nations artists.

This ties into our broader work delivering wills to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists to ensure their wishes can be enacted once they pas away.

Arts funding and Artist Conditions:

Advocating for higher levels of funding and support for artists and arts organisations. Working to encourage fairer working conditions for artists including spreading awareness to the sector of superannuation and Fair Work entitlements and obligations. This has been particularly important during the pandemic where the majority of artists were impacted by cancellations and many were ineligible for relief programs such as jobkeeper.

Artists rights in prisons

Advocating for fairer rights for artists in prisons across Australia is another aspect of our ongoing advocacy work. Arts Law supports the view that the recognition and encouragement of prisoners’ involvement in creative activities is beneficial to prisoners and society. Such activities have educational value as well as therapeutic benefits. In addition, prisoners may reveal artistic talents and obtain new career skills empowering them to reintegrate into society. Arts Law also supports the view that prisoners should be entitled to benefit from the sale and/or reproduction of their artwork while they are in prison, in the same way as they are entitled to benefit from other work. See Arts Law’s position paper here.

Defamation law reform

Arts Law has bee actively involved in consultation around the reforms to the Uniform Defamation Laws and making submissions on behalf of our client base. We have raised issues around outdated and uncertain provisions and the issues around there being a balance toward favouring plaintiffs seeking to protect their reputation above freedom of expression.

Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTS)

With NFTs gaining popularity, they represent unchartered territory for many artists. Arts Law is monitoring this growing space in relation to artists and intellectual property and has been educating artists on some of the legal issues they need to consider through our legal advice services, education sessions and publication resources.

You can read our new Info Sheet on NFTs here.