Museums have undergone significant changes in recent years to become more relevant and interesting to visitors. MTG Hawke’s Bay is no exception, with exhibitions and events that foster wider community and visitor engagement and involvement. Gone are the days when we expect to see cabinets stuffed with curiosities with no connection to here and now. Museums such as MTG are now venues where we can connect with the past, learn about the present and consider the future.
Our latest exhibitions at MTG are great examples of this.
The ‘Silver Shadows’ exhibition stirs fond memories of Napier’s Marineland, and the dolphins and a sea lion called Flash that performed there. It also raises questions about keeping wild animals in captivity for entertainment. Our new Fane Flaws display and the soon-to-be-opened Minh Ta exhibition celebrate the outstanding work of two people who have called Hawke’s Bay ‘home’. The objects in these exhibitions are all from the 1970’s and later. They include videos, music, artwork, designs, posters, garments, awards, company logos, advertising, photographs, postcards, souvenirs and memorabilia that illustrate the amazing achievements of Hawke’s Bay people.
Our MTG website http://www.mtghawkesbay.com showcases an increasing number of objects from our collection through the online catalogue, including those objects held in storage. Making our collection publically available in this way ensures MTG is accessible and relevant to the widest audience possible. One topic of particular online interest has been the recent floods. We’ve had increased interest in records and photographs relating to previous floods and protection work in Hawke’s Bay. Probably these objects from the past will now inform future planning decisions.
However, our focus on exhibiting contemporary objects and publishing images of collection objects on our website comes with a responsibility to honour the copyright of every exhibited object. It’s not legally acceptable to simply reproduce or photograph objects for exhibition in a gallery or on the internet without permission, irrespective of who we are or how good our intentions may be. Owning an object, such as a photograph or music track, does not necessarily come with the right to copy it. The makers of these objects may still own the copyright and are entitled to legal protection.
The purpose of copyright is to protect the rights and livelihood of the maker. The unique and expert design of a high fashion garment justifies a premium price that then supports designers, like Minh Ta, to continue their work and earn a living. Selling a music video or music track supports the musicians and technicians who performed and produced it. Copying them without permission denies the performers their income and is effectively theft.
Copyright laws exist in every country and cover the full range of objects of ‘artistic merit’. As an example, the copyright of photographs taken in New Zealand after 1944 remains with the photographer, and subsequently the beneficiaries of their estate, for 50 years from the death of the maker. This applies to all photographs irrespective of whether or not they were professionally taken. If a photograph was commissioned, the copyright transfers from the photographer but the duration remains the same. In some countries copyright is much longer, like 75 or 100 years.
When a copyright is still active we make every reasonable effort to contact all of the makers, be they multinational music publishers or amateur photographers, to obtain permission to make images and digital copies of the objects and certainly to permit museum visitors to take photographs of them.
As well as addressing copyright permissions, exhibiting digital copies of music videos, such as those made by Fane Flaws, has required video classification and rating in accordance with New Zealand law. Likewise, exhibiting objects that include tobacco advertising, like Minh Ta’s NZ Fashion Award sponsored by a tobacco company, has required Smokefree law-related approval. Again these highlight the range of responsibilities we have when exhibiting contemporary objects.
Addressing these issues is my primary role at MTG. Our experience is that copyright permission is mostly granted, sometimes with conditions, and it’s these objects that you see in our galleries and on our website. As always, we remain grateful to the people and organisations who’ve understood our need to be relevant and engaging to our visitors, and have given their permission for us to exhibit their intellectual property at our museum.
Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today newspaper on 8 April 2023 and written by Phil Lascelles, Collection Assistant Copyright at MTG Hawke’s Bay.
Image: From Herbie's Only Human, 2014 by Fane Flaws
13 April 2023
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