With artists already finding it tough enough to earn money from their careers, copyright is a fiercely-debated topic at the best of times – let alone when a Governmental body is seeking to severely shorten the number of years a creator can legally lay claim to their own works.

That’s exactly what Australia’s own advisory body the Productivity Commission recommended last year, first in a highly-publicised draft report and then in the finished document, which recommends that the copyright period on musical works be reduced from 70 years after creation, to a mere 25.

Very few artists would be happy about writing a song and then finding that, just a quarter century later, they’re no longer the rights holder to their own work, but it’s an issue that is set to have a unique impact on Indigenous artists.

In an open letter, a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and industry groups – including outspoken Indigenous advocate and A.B. Original rapper Adam Briggs, football star Adam Goodes, and acclaimed performers like Dan Sultan and Jessica Mauboy – have condemned the changes, noting especially how difficult they will make it for later generations of Indigenous creators to make a living from their work, and also to continue to tell vital Indigenous stories.

“This is not just unfair, it is a threat to the artistic mob and means it may be even harder to make a living for the next generation of artists,” the letter reads. “Our kids should be able to grow up inspired by artists like Albert Namatjira and Emily Kame Kngwarreye, listening to music from artists like Dan Sultan and Jessica Mauboy and watching movies like Bran Nue Dae and Samson and Delilah and TV shows like Black Comedy and Basically Black and reading books like Shake a Leg and My Place.

“Ownership, responsibility and control by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of their cultural heritage is paramount,” it continues. “The suggested changes will have a detrimental impact on the stories, imagery, knowledge and heritage which is embodied in our story-telling and artistic works.”

“Ownership is also a way of economic empowerment for those artists who earn money from selling, reselling and reproducing their works,” the letter closes, calling on the Government to rule out the proposal.

While the report describes the proposed changes as heralding a “fairer system of rights”, Music Australia was quick to condemn the draft report when it was released, questioning not only the evidence used to reach these conclusions, but also the motivations behind them.

“The report is recommending fair dealing be replaced with fair use,” they wrote. “This is another contested issue – the task will be to strike a balance that encourages innovation by rights users, while also properly remunerating rights owners, without undue complexity.”

“There are recommendations in the report that would drastically change intellectual property arrangements, which are not backed by sound evidence. This brings into question the motivations behind this approach, and the potential for adverse impacts.”

Now, Australia’s Indigenous community has added its voice to the fight, and it falls to the Government to respond. The open letter is published below in its entirety.

Open letter: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, musicians, performers, filmmakers and writers oppose Productivity Commission recommendations on copyright in Australia

We the undersigned unanimously reject the Productivity Commission’s Recommendations on copyright in Australia. The recommendations to change copyright protections will harm the ability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander film and television makers, writers, artists, musicians and journalists to tell Indigenous stories and make a living.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and creators have a right to receive fair payment for their work. The changes to Australian copyright laws being pushed by the Productivity Commission, large organisations and big technology companies will greatly diminish these protections.

This is not just unfair, it is a threat to the artistic mob and means it may be even harder to make a living for the next generation of artists. Our kids should be able to grow up inspired by artists like Albert Namatjira and Emily Kame Kngwarreye, listening to music from artists like Dan Sultan and Jessica Mauboy and watching movies like Bran Nue Dae and Samson and Delilah and TV shows like Black Comedy and Basically Black and reading books like Shake a Leg and My Place.

Ownership, responsibility and control by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of their cultural heritage is paramount. The suggested changes will have a detrimental impact on the stories, imagery, knowledge and heritage which is embodied in our story-telling and artistic works.

Ownership is also a way of economic empowerment for those artists who earn money from selling, reselling and reproducing their works.

We call on the Australian Government and parliament to rule out these proposed changes from the Productivity Commission.

Signed,

• Vernon Ah Kee (Artist)
• Jada Alberts (Actor, Writer,Director)
• Dave Arden (Musician)
• Bronwyn Bancroft (Artist, Fashion Designer and Copyright Agency Board Member)
• Bibi Barba (Artist)
• William Baron (Performer, Composer)
• Larissa Behrendt (Filmmaker, Academic)
• Richard Bell (Artist)
• Kevin Bennett (Musician)
• Rachel Bin Salleh (Publisher)
• Mervyn Bishop (Filmmaker)
• Wayne Blair (Filmmaker, Director, Actor)
• Brendon Boney (Singer, Songwriter)
• Adam Briggs (Musician, Writer and Actor)
• Troy Cassar-Daley (Musician)
• Beck Cole (Director and Screenwriter)
• Brenda Croft (Curator, Academic)
• Julie Dowling (Artist)
• Leah Flanagan (Singer,Songwriter)
• Julie Gough (Artist, Writer and Curator)
• Aroha Groves (Artist, Designer)
• Anita Heiss (Author, Presenter and Commentator)
• Rarriwuy Hicks (Actor)
• Terri Janke (Copyright Lawyer)
• Melissa Lucashenko (Writer)
• Jessica Mauboy (Singer, songwriter, Actress)
• Rachael Maza (Artistic Director, Actor, Narrator)
• Philip McLaren (Author,Academic)
• Sally Morgan (Author, Dramatist)
• Hunter Page-Lochard (Actor)
• Bruce Pascoe (Writer, Teacher,Historian)
• Sandra Phillips (Academic, Chair of the First Nations Australia Writers’ Network (FNAWN) and Chair of the Advisory Board of the Centre for Indigenous Story)
• Leah Purcell (Actor, Director, Writer)
• Kim Scott (Novelist, Writer)
• Shari Sebbens (Actor)
• Bjorn Stewart (Actor, Writer)
• Dan Sultan (Singer, Songwriter)
• Jared Thomas (Author, Playwright, Poet, Academic)
• Gina Williams (Singer, Songwriter)
• Tara June Winch (Writer)
• Jason Wing (Artist)

Organisations

• AACHWA (Peak body for Aboriginal Art Centres across Western Australia)
• Boomalli (Aboriginal Artists Co-operative representing 50 artists)
• Desart (representing over 40 Central Australian Aboriginal Art Centres)
• Indigenous Art Centre Alliance (Representing 13 arts centres across far north Queensland)
• Koori Heritage Trust
• Moogahlin Performing Arts Incorporated

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