Consideration of a proposed Private Members Bill by the Member for Kennedy, the Hon Bob Katter MP, concerning ways to prevent the unfair exploitation and misuse of Indigenous cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and expression through legislative amendment to the Competition and Consumer Act.

In 2016, following representations by Indigenous community members and artists, key peak bodies, the Arts Law Centre of Australia, Indigenous Art Code and Copyright Agency Viscopy began to explore how to best respond to concerns about the growing presence of inauthentic ‘Aboriginal style’ art and craft products and merchandise for sale across Australia.

In response to the concerns, the ‘Fake Art Harms Culture’ campaign was created to address the widespread sale of works that have the ‘look and feel’ of being Indigenous but actually have no connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. These are commercially produced goods, generally aimed at the tourist market; often made from nontraditional materials; and featuring inauthentic and culturally inappropriate designs. They range from bamboo didgeridoos, to decorative plates and key rings.

Key Findings:

  • Long term funding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owned and governed art centres, for example, has created learning and income-earning opportunities while helping to foster the preservation and dissemination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
  • Major touring exhibitions of Indigenous art have taken that culture to the world, promoting a greater understanding of its significance, encouraging tourism, helping create an international market for the visual arts, playing a role in soft diplomacy and generally benefiting Australia’s cultural standing.
  • With this increased awareness, reputation and market value a market in fake art products and merchandise has also emerged. The production of these inauthentic products has a direct negative impact in at least four ways. It:
    • misappropriates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and undermines the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities;
    • denies Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists of economic and other opportunities;
    • deceives consumers; and
    • disadvantages Australian businesses who take an ethical and culturally empathetic approach to their work.

It is recognised that the protection of culture and advancing the empowerment of Indigenous people is complex, but a prohibition on unfair practices in supplying and trading in Indigenous art and merchandise would be a significant step forward. The need for comprehensive protection of Indigenous Cultural Intellectual Property will not be addressed by this measure alone but it will be a small step in stopping a very public and damaging form of exploitation.

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