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Now to the story...

Namatjira copyright campaign gets Democrat support

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on17 Jan 2003

This is a transcript of PM broadcast at 1800 AEST on local radio.

Namatjira copyright campaign gets Democrat support

PM - Monday, February 17, 2003 18:40

MARK COLVIN: Albert Namatjira's reputation's being rediscovered by a new
generation as a National Gallery exhibition tours the country, but there's
a row over who should own the copyright to his work.

It raises questions about western versus traditional law.

They've emerged as part of a campaign to restore the copyright for
Namatjira's work to his family at Hermannsburg, west of Alice Springs.

The Democrats Senator Aden Ridgeway is leading a campaign to have the
Federal and Northern Territory Governments buy back the rights from a
private company.

Anne Barker reports.

ANNE BARKER: In life, Albert Namatjira placed a new trail for indigenous
people, as the first Aboriginal artist to succeed in a white man's world.

Now, even in death, Namatjira is again breaking new ground.

More than four decades after he died, he's the first Aboriginal artist
whose copyright is nearing the 50 year limit, and it's sparked a campaign
to keep the ownership of indigenous copyright in indigenous hands.

ADEN RIDGEWAY: His family have never had any legal say in how his images
reproduced or used, and the fact that they've never received any financial
benefit really says something about the need to acknowledge and rectify
some of the mistakes of the past.

ANNE BARKER: Democrats Senator Aden Ridgeway is leading a campaign to have
the Federal and Northern Territory Governments buy back the copyright to
Namatjira's work, form a private company, Legend Press, and restore all
financial benefits to his descendents.

ADEN RIDGEWAY: The Northern Territory Public Trustee Office, in 1983, did
sell the copyright to a particular family here in Sydney, and a gallery.
That went for a measly eight thousand dollars, and I think most of all
what we've got to do is make sure that the Namatjira family do receive
some recompense for the fact that they haven't been involved in having a
say in how the images are used.

ANNE BARKER: When Namatjira died n 1959, Legend Press owned the rights to
reproduce his work, but had to pay a 12 per cent royalty to his family.

But when that agreement expired in 1983, the public trustee, as executor
of his estate, signed a new agreement which gave all control and ownership
to Legend Press until 2009; all for a lump sum of just eight thousand
dollars, or about three hundred dollars a year for his family.

Aden Ridgeway says not only was that sum a pittance, but the family was
never even consulted.

ADEN RIDGEWAY: It's not a suggestion that the copyright laws, as they
stand, ought to be extended in such a way as indigenous people getting
special treatment, it's an acknowledgement saying that the definition of
our western understanding of how copyright law applies is usually in
relation to an individual, not the family and not anyone else beyond that;
and in many cases, when you look at indigenous work, particularly those
done in traditional style, it's often done as a result of the secrets and
the stories that are passed from one generation to the next.

They're owned by many people in the community, many artists usually
contribute to collaborative work, and it's a question of how does the law
recognise that collaboration in artistic and cultural creation.

ANNE BARKER: Legend Press has refused to speak to the ABC about how the
copyright agreement was negotiated.

The Public Trustee wasn't employed in the job at the time.

But one man who has a strong interest in Namatjira is Johna Jones, the
founding director of the Araluen Art Gallery in Alice Springs, which
staged the first major exhibition of Namatjira's works after he died.

JOHNA JONES: Well I think today the figure sort of looks ludicrous, but
even at the time I would have thought that the figure was fairly modest.

I think anybody, any reasonable person would have put a figure higher than
the eight thousand or eight and a half thousand that was put on it at the

ANNE BARKER: How unusual is such an agreement, where the artist or
descendents lose control of his work in this way, all the bulk of the
revenue's coming from copyright?

JOHNA JONES: In Australia it's rare. I can't think of another instance
where it was done without the family involved in the decision.

ANNE BARKER: So far, neither the Federal nor Territory governments has
made any commitment to act.

But Jonah Jones believes, because of the principles at stake, there could
be a role for UNESCO.

JONAH JONES: UNESCO has a role in protecting indigenous culture, and
certainly, you know, indigenous cultural product, and if it came from that
level it could help put pressure on here, I think, to have it considered
more sensibly.

MARK COLVIN: Jonah Jones, the founding director of the Araluen Art Gallery
in Alice Springs, ending Anne Barker's report




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