Earlier this year we came together with Alperstein Designs to do a case study focussing on licensing agreements and the importance of seeking advice. The case study was produced by IP Australia and the Australian Design Council.
Alperstein Designs is a family business selling wholesale lifestyle gifts and homewares nationally. Their high end Australiana giftware range includes in-house products as well as collaborations with Indigenous artists. Effective engagement with intellectual property (IP) rights has helped provide a positive framework for commercialising cultural products with sensitivity and respect.
For over 15 years, Alperstein Designs have worked closely with Indigenous artists and art centres to reproduce artworks, under license, on homewares that can be enjoyed every day. They’re a member of the Indigenous Art Code and the Aboriginal Art Association of Australia, which work to ensure ethical dealings within the sector.
Alperstein Designs start by building reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationships with artists to support this process. It ended up being the perfect match: artists could focus on painting and exhibiting while Alperstein imprinted selected visual artworks on bespoke homewares for commercial production. Soon a simple range of coffee mugs had expanded into a diverse array of unique, high-end products.
‘Entering a licensing agreement, we’re very mindful that we’re not buying the copyright,’ - Alperstein Designs.
It’s important to the team at Alperstein Designs that the business engages with artists in a way that protects the intellectual property of all involved, so Alperstein Designs sought legal advice from an IP lawyer to formulate a licensing agreement. Being able to set clear parameters for what they and the artist were able to do was essential to establishing transparency, ethics and a functional business environment.
The agreement maintains the copyright of artists’ original work and applies for a finite period of time, throughout which the artist receives agreed-upon royalties. As a flexible arrangement, it’s subject to reviews and renewals if and as parties deem necessary. To ensure all collaborators are informed and consenting, Alperstein Designs always encourages artists to seek external legal advice.
‘It starts with a chat. It’s about what works for them and what they want to do and then seeing if that fits with what we want to do as well,’ - Alperstein Designs.
The success of Alperstein’s business model hinges on building trust and integrity.
One long-standing collaborator is Mick Harding, a Taungwurrung artist. After initially getting in touch via the Koorie Heritage Trust, Mick appreciated Alperstein’s interest in building a grounded, complementary relationship. He could tell that they weren’t in this ‘for the money and the money alone’.
‘If our people were using it in the past and we’re using it today, I want to make sure it’s there for our children and children’s children, into the future, because culturally, we’re responsible for that kind of stuff,’ Mick says.
For Mick, the licensing agreement system is a thorough and convenient way to manage his IP while safeguarding creative and cultural rights. Having witnessed other established Indigenous artists lose their copyright due to unfair and exploitative agreements, Mick recognises that clear licensing parameters maintain and protect the artist’s copyright, community and culture.
‘I’m really interested in forming relationships with people so that we get to know one another and then we can bounce ideas off each other about different stuff,’ Mick says.
When Mick first presented his artwork, Marc was taken aback by its rich symbology and unique black-and-white style. Since these beginnings, product creation has been a reciprocal process; a conversational to and fro. Alperstein develop a new product with Mick’s design work, then send him photos, explaining the intent behind the item and its functionality. Mick is always given full freedom to accept or reject products. For Alperstein Designs, it’s paramount that collaborating artists are unequivocally on board and informed.
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