Law Articles & Essays

The Copyright of Albert Namatjira

Albert Namatjira 200

You see them driving from Kings Canyon to Alice Springs, the majestic ghost white river gums depicted so faithfully in the paintings of Albert Namatjira. You would think you were looking at a Namatjira painting. And then there is the vista of the craggy hills of the West McDonnell Ranges in their mysterious blue hue – a signature feature of Namatjira’s art.


Aboriginal Australia - A Personal Story

Aboriginal Artwork

My journey into Aboriginal Australia started almost by complete accident.

I was completing my reading period for the Victorian Bar, having made the transition from solicitor to barrister, and had no idea how or if I was going to get any work. By chance, I heard a radio program on the ABC AM morning show about the need for new laws to protect Aboriginal artworks from unauthorised reproduction.


Managing IP Disputes

thumb managing ip disputes cadbury dairy milk

Scope of rights

A key starting point in managing IP disputes is an understanding of the scope and limitations of IP protection – having regard to the available term of a right, the ambit of any monopoly and the defences which might be available.

A brief survey of some recent IP cases shows the breadth of the range of IP disputes and the way in which Courts are dealing with contemporary rights management issues.


Dealing with barristers - A symbiotic relationship

Dealing with barristers

Illustration, Nigel Buchanan

For many solicitors, dealing with barristers must be frustrating. You spend time preparing a case, which is taken from you, and possibly run in ways you had not imagined. Why would you do this to yourself?

The idea of solicitors retaining barristers to argue their clients’ cases might initially at least seem perverse. However there are a number of practical reasons for doing this. 

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Copyright and the Internet

The new electronic order

If developments in relation to music and the Internet are any guide, writers and publishers will increasingly be addressing the opportunities for self-management on the Internet. For writers, there is a well-established path for sharing copyright works without charge.

Originally published in May 2011 edition of the Australian Book Review.

A Sorry Tale

Aboriginal Flage - Flag design © Harold Thomas

The Aboriginal flag – which in 1995 was proclaimed as a national flag under the commonwealth Flags Act – was not the product of a competition or commission.

It was created as a flag of protest in the early 1970s, but, not being subject to ‘‘crown copyright’’, is protected as a copyright work that ironically is privately owned.


The Protection of "At The Waterhole" by John Bulun Bulun

Aboriginal art and the recognition of private and communal rights

John Bulun Bulun is an Aboriginal artist who lives in the area of Maningrida, an Aboriginal township about 600 kms. east of Darwin in central Arnhem land.

When I first met him in 1988, he lived in an outstation, known as Garmedi,with a population of about 20 people. Bulun Bulun was one of a group of three highly successful bark painters living at the outstation, with the other artists being Jack Wun Wun and his son Michael. These artists painted on bark, using traditional ochres (applying the ochres mixed with water using both traditional and Western brushes). They would also use glue to give a sheen to the surface of the bark on which they were painting. Their work was often very elaborate, combining complex tribal imagery with detailed cross-hatching.

Meeting at the waterhole

Magpie Geese and Waterlilies at the Waterhole, 1980, Maningrada, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory

A copyright lawyer’s adventures in Arnhem Land

I stumbled into the Aboriginal world completely by chance. I was completing the three month reading course to become a barrister in 1988, during which time I was not permitted by the bar rules to take any work. I was at the time blessed with a three-year-old child and another baby due shortly. I had no idea how I was going to get my first brief. Desperation turned to invention.

An ABC radio current affairs program ran an item on Aboriginal demands for a law to protect the copyright in their artistic works. They were complaining about unauthorised reproduction on T-shirts of important artworks. I readily interpreted a solution under conventional copyright principles. To a lawyer trained in copyright, it was obvious enough. I rang the ABC, and spoke with the program’s producer. “Sorry to bother you,” I said. “But I just heard your program, and while I don’t usually ring with my comments and thoughts . . . No new law is required. Copyright will do.”