Case Studies

Prisoners have copyright and moral rights too


PV was a prisoner who originally brought this matter to the attention of the relevant State Ombudsman. The Ombudsman after conducting its investigation, then contacted the Artists in the Black service (AITB) of Arts Law to see if we could assist PV to resolve his case.

Facts of the case

As a boy PV had learnt to paint from his grandfather. Whilst in prison PV had participated in a rehabilitation program and had created a painting as part of this program. PV was asked to allow his painting to be hung in a recreation area of the prison. In return PV was to receive $120 worth of “buy-ups” at the prison shop. PV never received the “buy-ups”.

At a later date when PV was in a different prison, he saw his painting reproduced on a poster advertising the rehabilitation services. PV had never given permission for his painting to be reproduced. This unauthorised use of his work amounted to a copyright infringement.

The prisoner's name did not appear next to his work or anywhere on the poster. This was an infringement of PV's moral right to be attributed (named) as the creator of the artwork.

PV also had displayed the painting in a frame which he had also painted and the painted frame did not feature in the poster reproduction. This was considered a further infringement of PV's moral rights. This time his right of integrity. The right of integrity means that the artwork should not be treated in a derogatory manner which damages the reputation of the artist.

With the assistance of a law firm acting pro bono, Arts Law/AITB took up PV's matter with the prison service. The prison service had earlier conceded during the investigation by the Ombudsman's office it had been in error in reproducing the painting without permission and had offered a paltry amount of compensation equivalent to the buy-up amount.

Outcome for client

After negotiations with the prison service a settlement was reached (the terms of which were confidential) with the prisoner receiving a more appropriate amount of compensation for the copyright and moral rights infringements as well as the return of his painting to his family.

After the matter was finalised the client sent a letter to the AITB solicitor thanking her for all her support which included the following comments:

After all sis you have been there from the start to support me with this fight and it has been greatly appreciated. …all your support and help to me has been all positive and your advice was really honest. So thank you again for everything. I don't think I could have done this without you.

The details of the prisoner and prison service have not been identified because of confidentiality requirements in relation to this case.