Arts Law helps an artist assert his moral right of attribution after 20 years
Gabriel Maralngurra is a longstanding member of Injalak Arts at Oenpelli on the eastern border of World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park. Gabriel has exhibited to acclaim throughout Australia, as well as in Europe and the USA. He has been a four-time finalist in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award and his works are held in important collections across Australia, including the Melbourne Museum.
When Gabriel was a very young man, a non-profit outstation resource centre at Oenpelli was given one of Gabriel’s drawings to use as its logo (trade mark). His drawing appeared on planes, trucks, stationery and signage for about twenty years. Gabriel knew nothing about copyright or moral rights. He didn’t know that his permission was required or that he was entitled to ask for payment and attribution. He was proud to see his work used in this way but disappointed that he was never acknowledged.
In 2008 Artists in the Black visited Oenpelli and heard this story. We asked our pro bono lawyers at Freehills to draft a letter on Gabriel’s behalf asking the resource centre to acknowledge Gabriel as the artist and suggesting that some payment was appropriate for such a long period of use. The resource centre is an important part of the community at Oenpelli and Gabriel was happy for his drawing to continue to be used. This was not a letter of demand but a letter proposing a solution to a situation in which Gabriel’s moral right of attribution had not been respected. The resource centre had not considered these issues before and was very happy to agree to the proposal. It acknowledged Gabriel’s rights as artist and copyright owner and agreed to identify Gabriel as the artist on all its official publications and electronic media. It also made a generous payment to Gabriel in recognition of the long use of his drawing and its importance as part of the resource centre’s branding.
It is important to understand your rights of copyright and your moral rights. If someone wants to copy or use your art as a logo or trademark you may be entitled to ask for payment or acknowledgement and have a say about how your art can be used. It’s best to do that when the use is first proposed but this case also demonstrates how lawyers can help to negotiate a better result even after a long time.