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Art in the age of digital reproduction

What challenges do artists face when it comes to Australian copyright law?

Picture a store where customers only pay for every five out of 100 products. It would be a miracle if that store stayed open. More than likely, that sort of sales pattern would make any aspiring store owner think twice about getting into the business in the first place.

While it's laughable to think of such a store, this is not too far off the mark for many artists, according to new research on the arts and copyright law in Australia.

Copying without the rights

In many ways, the Australian copyright system is quite advantageous. Without a lengthy and convoluted registration process, intellectual property creators don't need to jump through hoops to know their works are covered by copyright law. While artists are finding it easy to establish copyright ownership of their labours, they are not having the same luck when it comes to actually enforcing those rights.

Nine in 10 artists have had their work reproduced, but only 5 per cent of their income comes from copyright.

A survey of artists conducted by The Copyright Agency | Viscopy found that this is a major issue among the creative community. While 90 per cent of artists surveyed have had their work reproduced in some way – 71 per cent say on the internet – only 5 per cent of their income comes from copyright payments. 

The internet, though quite useful in providing artists with a venue for exposure, presents a real risk for copyright infringement. Over 50 per cent of artists who had their rights infringed experienced this through online channels.

Barriers to action

A major issue for artists is that there are very few ways to ensure that their works aren't reproduced without their permission. IP Australia urges content creators to be vigilant, paying attention to online venues where their works might be posted without consent. But, with the internet as large as it is, vigilance alone won't cut it.

Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts Tamara Tamara Winikoff noted that these issues prevent artists from enjoying the benefit of copyright.

"The problem is that for artists to find who might be copying their work and to get them to either agree to a licensing agreement or to pay for what they've used, that presents real challenges," she said, as reported by ABC.

Finances and awareness also play big factors – of artists that didn't pursue legal action, 55 per cent cited cost while 58 per cent said they didn't know how to take action.

Clearly, artists need more resources in their corner. For information about copyright lawyers in Australia, contact Alder IP today.