Spotlight – a pro bono success story

Christine is an Indigenous artist with the Ceduna Arts and Cultural Centre. In June 2006 she signed a Licence Reproduction Agreement with a company with produces postcards and tourist memorabilia. This gave the company a non-exclusive licence to reproduce her designs for the next five years.

What happened

During 2009 Christine forwarded her artworks to the company with a verbal agreement that these could be sold by the company together with permission for the art work to be reproduced in accordance with the Licence Reproduction Agreement. Some time passed without any report from the company and eventually on the 4th November 2009 Christine issued an invoice for the artworks in the sum of $3,939.50. When the company did not respond Christine turned to the Arts Law Centre of Australia for assistance.

Through one of the lawyers on the Arts Law Centre panel a Notice of Demand was issued on the company. It was then discovered that the company had become deregistered and may have been deregistered when the artworks were forwarded to it in 2009. Additional enquiries revealed that former directors of the company had established a partnership business in 2008. After checking further business records with the website the partnership's new address was located and a Notice of Demand forwarded to them. The result was that in March 2010 Christine received a cheque for the money owing to her together with the remaining artworks which had not been sold.

Pam Diment, the co-ordinator of the Ceduna Arts & Culture Centre, was very impressed with the help received from Arts Law and Robert Lempens, and was very happy for Christine with the end results.

Tips for Artists

The case highlights that whenever an artist forwards paintings to a company or partnership the artist should first check to ensure that the company is registered. This is because agreements entered into some years ago may be of no value if the company with which the agreement has been made is deregistered or, even worse, in liquidation. If art works are handed to a company with no written documentation, there is a chance that if the company went into liquidation the Artist may lose not only her artwork but also the profits from any previous sale. An artist should always be aware of the legal identity of whom they are dealing with, and record any transactions in writing.

The artist should also make it clear to any person or company to whom artworks are forwarded that ownership of the artwork remains with the artist until the artwork is sold.

Robert Lempens is a director of Adelaide law firm Camatta Lempens, and a valued member of the Arts Law volunteer lawyers panel.

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