By Lee Elsdon (Solicitor, Arts Law), Roxanne Lorenz (Solicitor, Arts Law) and Kelvin Yeung (Intern, University of Sydney Law School)
In 2016, Arts Law together with the Indigenous Art Code and the Copyright Agency launched the ‘Fake Art Harms Culture’ Campaign to raise awareness of the growing presence of inauthentic ‘Aboriginal style’ art and craft products and merchandise for sale across Australia.
We estimate that 80% of items sold with the ‘look and feel’ of being Indigenous, are in fact inauthentic and often culturally inappropriate. Mostly aimed at the tourist market, these items appear to be made by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people but are in fact fakes made by non-Indigenous people, and often produced overseas. This practice robs Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of the income produced by the exploitation of their culture.
The Campaign has had some success to date. More people are aware of the issue and are making better decisions when they purchase Indigenous-style works, and the ACCC has successfully prosecuted a large manufacturer. The Campaign has also led to private bills being introduced to Parliament by Independent MP, Hon Bob Katter and Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, and two parliamentary inquiries. Unfortunately, these bills have been rejected by Parliament, and the reports released by the inquiries have resulted in no action.
The latest inquiry and the Greens Bill
In February 2019, Senator Hanson-Young introduced her Bill to Parliament. If passed, this Bill would have introduced amendments to the Australian Consumer Law which would have effectively banned the sale or supply of Indigenous ‘style’ products and merchandise unless they were produced by or licenced from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person.
The Bill was referred to the Senate’s Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, who considered submissions and evidence from a range of stakeholders. The Committee’s report expressed its in-principal support of addressing the issue of inauthentic Indigenous-style products in the souvenir market as proposed in the Greens’ Bill.
However, this Committee fell short of recommending that the Parliament pass the Bill, instead recommending more consultation. We are extremely disappointed that yet again, the Parliament has failed to act in the best interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Consultation on this topic has been extensive over many years, and the result is the overwhelming consensus of artists, communities, organisations and parliamentarians that change is necessary, and urgent.
Arts Law will continue to stand at the side of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and communities and continue to demand strong action and a commitment to banning the sale of inauthentic and culturally inappropriate products.
Click here to learn more about the Fake Art Harms Culture Campaign and see how you can add your support.