After a concerted campaign by the Indigenous Art Code, Arts Law Australia and the Copyright Agency to stop the sale of inauthentic Indigenous art and craft products, the Federal Government announced last week it would set up a $150,000 pilot to test digital codes as a way to label authentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander products.

Desart will work with the Copyright Agency and the Department of Communications and the Arts to implement the pilot in up to three remote Indigenous-owned art centres, starting in the first half of 2019.

The Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Mitch Fifield said in a media statement, “This initiative aims to assist consumers to make informed and ethical purchases and will increase economic and cultural opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and designers.

“The digital codes will allow consumers to track the artwork’s journey from a remote community to the store shelf, and see information on provenance and the artist.”

Copyright Agency CEO Adam Suckling said, “This is a terrific initiative by the Government to address the serious problem of art and craft merchandise being passed off as authentically Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. We strongly support the Government’s approach as this practice is not only deeply disrespectful of Aboriginal creativity and culture, it robs artists of income.

“Being part of this trial will allow the Copyright Agency to assess the potential of blockchain to protect the rights of our visual arts members even more effectively, and address what amounts to exploitation and theft. It might also enable us to more efficiently distribute money to our members.

“We are very interested to see the potential for blockchain to have broader application across all areas of our business, as effective copyright is essential for our 40,000 members.”

The sale of inauthentic Indigenous artworks and merchandise is the subject of an ongoing inquiry by the Parliament’s House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs and has also seen recent action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

More information about the inquiry, including the Terms of Reference, is available at: www.aph.gov.au/indigenousaffairs