In the teaching of copyright, it is usually said that copyright is an economic right. In Arnhem Land, they think otherwise. In 1990, I attended a meeting of Aboriginal artists in Maningrida. These artists had been involved in a copyright infringement case concerning the unauthorised reproduction of works of art on T-shirts. The case had settled, and the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the division of the spoils. The case involved a number of artists and different infringements by the same infringer.
As counsel on behalf of the artists, I suggested to those present that the best way to divide up the settlement monies was on a pro rata basis: that is, the artist whose work had been copied the most would get the most money, and so on. This advice was noted, and I was asked to leave the room. This was not a direction that I was accustomed to receiving from my own clients. They said they wanted to discuss the matter without any professional input or intrusion. Some time later, I was called back into the meeting and informed that my suggestion of a pro rata share would not be adopted as it was culturally inappropriate, i.e. Western bullshit. Instead, each artist would share equally, no matter how extensive or otherwise the infringement of their work. I was told that this was desirable from an Aboriginal perspective because everyone had been harmed equally.
Occasionally – probably all too rarely (from a copyright perspective) – one is reminded of the cultural aspects of copyright.