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Melbourne Street Art

17 January 2020
But did you really visit Melbourne if you didn't snap an Instagram worthy photo at the iconic Hozier Lane?

Hozier Lane is just one location in Australia where tourists and locals alike can visit and view incredible street art at no cost. With over 1000 posts containing the hashtag '#hozierlane', this location has become a popular Instagram backdrop for many, however what people likely do not recognise is that street art is actually protected by copyright.

Copyright protects the expressions of ideas; where someone creates street art they are afforded copyright protection in their artistic work. Copyright ownership gives the artist exclusive rights to reproduce, publish or communicate their work to the public. This means that every single photo that has been posted to Instagram, without the artist's permission, featuring the street art may actually constitute copyright infringement. 

Luckily for all tourists and locals whose social media is plastered with pictures of the iconic locations, these artists are generally un-phased by people publishing photos online for non-commercial purposes in fact, on the contrary, it is great indirect promotion of the artist and his or her work. The issue arises however where someone who takes a photo of the art work, then uses the photo for some commercial purpose. Ordinarily, if you wanted to use street art as a location in a film shoot, to photograph (for commercial purposes) or to feature on a website then it is important to obtain permission from the copyright holder to reduce the risk of any possible infringement. Street Art is unique, in that many artists do not identify themselves, but rather go by a pseudonym. It is common for Artists to include their Instagram handle or name on their work to allow for people to find them, however where it is impossible to find an owner, these works are usually referred to as 'orphan works'. In Australia there are no exceptions for orphan works. While people have long argued that they should be allowed to use works where they have taken reasonable steps to locate the owner but have been unsuccessful, the simple rule is that if you use the work without permission, and the owner later finds out, then you may be liable for copyright infringement no matter how long or hard you searched for the true owner of the artwork.

The key takeaway from this, to reduce risk of copyright infringement, is to obtain consent of the owner and if you can't find the owner, then it is your safest bet not to use the work.

A final interesting point about street art and copyright protection is that although copyright protects the artistic representation of the idea, it doesn't protect the actual artwork on the wall itself. Usually the property owner will own the actual physical artwork, because it is usually painted on their wall or premisessomething to think about next time you are in Melbourne supping a coffee and strolling down Hozier Lane!

Molly Flynn

Molly Flynn

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