Case Studies

Bede Tungutalum and “Owl Man”

Senior Tiwi artist Bede Tungutalum is a painter, carver and printmaker and one of the founders of Tiwi Designs the well known Indigenous screen printing business based on Bathurst Island. His works are held in the National Gallery of Australia and in the art collections of the Western Australian, Victorian, Queensland and the Northern Territory governments.

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In 2004, he approached Artists in the Black after seeing prints of his limited edition linocut work “Owl Man” for sale on the internet and through galleries in Australia. These prints differed significantly from his original work, a self portrait, through the addition of nostrils and lips. This change was a material distortion of his work which he considered prejudicial to his honour and reputation. Issues arose as to whether the alterations were made in good faith, however, in any case, they did not accurately reflect the original image of the artwork. The matter grew to involve a series of related and separate disputes with more than one person.

Artists in the Black secured the pro bono support of Allens Arthur Robinson, in particular Melbourne IP partner Tim Golder, whose team invested over 100 hours during the next 4 years to resolve the disputes concerning the alterations of the prints and their display, distribution and sale. A resolution, which was satisfactory to Mr Tungutalum, was reached on each of the matters, which included the payment of financial compensation to Mr Tungutalum and the removal from sale and return to Mr Tungatalum of a substantial number of the altered copies of Owl Man, including their removal from online gallery websites in the United States and Switzerland.

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At the conclusion of the matter, Tim Golder observed “There can be a number of challenges in undertaking pro bono work for individuals….  This is where an organisation such as the Arts Law Centre has an invaluable role to play.  They have an acute understanding of their clients' circumstances and needs….  On the other hand, the Arts Law Centre understands how large law firms operate and is experienced at dealing with commercial lawyers.  And so, as we found in our matters for Mr Tungutalum, the Arts Law Centre provides a vital link between the large law firms and pro bono clients, such as Indigenous artists.”

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