Artist ‘broken’ after judge rules copyright in her work to be shared in divorce

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An artist whose paintings are intertwined in a marriage breakdown feels that her “entire core” and identity was taken after her ex-husband was granted the right to jointly own the copyright to her work.

Sirpa Elise Alalääkkölä says “other artists should be worried” about their personal brand and the ramifications of a precedent-setting case that ruled that copyright in art created during her 20-year marriage is owned by the relationship.

Artists fear what it means for their intellectual property when they’re in a relationship, and an academic warns the move has important implications that undermine a person’s moral right to self-expression.

Alalääkkölä says she has finally found the strength to speak out after four years of legal battles that have left her “broken” and afraid to stand up for herself.

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She separated from her husband, Paul Anthony Palmer, in 2017. After believing that his “life’s work” was robbed from his studio in Ngakuta Bay near Picton in September of the same year, he admitted to having Thing that he took the paintings as a lever for their split.

The Marlborough Sounds family home and the paintings Alalääkkölä created during their marriage were then subject to a division of the relationship’s assets at Blenheim Family Court last year.

The judge ruled that since copyright law confers copyright on the creator of the works of art and Alalääkkölä’s jurisdiction existed before the relationship, copyright could not be the property of the relationship.

Palmer appealed the ruling – an ‘unexplored area’ never seen before in New Zealand – and a High Court judge last month ruled that the paintings and copyrights were owned by the relationship.

The decision not only means Palmer could now receive some of Alalääkkölä’s actual paintings, but he could also own some of the underlying intellectual property rights.

The paintings of Marlborough artist Sirpa Elise Alalaakkola are intertwined in a marriage breakdown.

Scott Hammond / Stuff

The paintings of Marlborough artist Sirpa Elise Alalaakkola are intertwined in a marriage breakdown.

The division of that relational property will now be decided by the family court, and Alalääkkölä this week requested leave to appeal the copyright ruling.

Alalääkkölä said Thing she had disengaged from the legal process because she was emotionally “broken” and did not believe that her ex-husband was trying to negotiate a fair deal.

It was only now that she realized the ramifications of not standing up for what her ex-husband was fighting for, she said.

“I always thought that the copyright belonged to the creator and that no one could take it. Now it has happened.

“When I heard the decision, I felt sick.”

The legal battle left her with anxiety attacks so severe that she once passed out while reading an affidavit at home, and she is now receiving support from a counselor.

Alalääkkölä says other artists should fear losing their personal mark after a court ruled that his work can now be considered relational property.

Adèle Redmond / Stuff

Alalääkkölä says other artists should fear losing their personal mark after a court ruled that his work can now be considered relational property.

Alalääkkölä said she was “not as broken” as she was at the start of the legal battle and was finally ready to defend herself.

“I just want it to end.

“How could anyone take my soul?” It’s my being, my whole heart.

His large, colorful canvases were marketed and sold as originals. Palmer admitted in court that he wanted copyright to continue to reproduce paintings for sale and earn future income.

The appeal judgment noted that this was a “sticking point” because Alalääkkölä would have no control over the number of prints made and the cost at which they can be sold.

She believed that this would undermine the future financial or intrinsic value of her artistic creations, and therefore she would lose control over her own work.

Paul Palmer thinks Sirpa's copyright could potentially be worth “millions”.  (Photo from September 2018)

Thing

Paul Palmer thinks Sirpa’s copyright could potentially be worth “millions”. (Photo from September 2018)

Palmer said Thing obtaining copyright was “not a control tactic.”

He said he preferred a “clean break”, but after advice from intellectual property specialists, he believed that copyright alone could potentially be worth “millions”.

“I’m not after the money, all I want is a fair result.”

He believed that Alalääkkölä was a wonderful artist, and they worked as a team in the family business until “everything fell apart”.

“Copyright was something that was created while we were together.”

Palmer understood that copyright was for “every piece of art, sketch, doodle since we’ve been together,” of which he believed there were over 1,000.

“Unfortunately yes, I could end up competing with it, technically speaking, by printing more, but I don’t want to do that.”

Alalääkkölä, photographed in December 2005, produces large, colorful canvases, often of holiday scenes.

Thing

Alalääkkölä, photographed in December 2005, produces large, colorful canvases, often of holiday scenes.

“Where does it end?” “

Canterbury University law professor David Jefferson said competition over what is done with art could affect Alalääkkölä’s reputation.

“[The decision] has important implications for these types of relationships, with one artist and one who isn’t.

It was now important for artists, and other trademark or intellectual property holders, to have relational property agreements in place, he said.

While the September High Court ruling recognized the economic aspect of copyright, it violated artists’ moral rights of expression.

Alalääkkölä feels her identity was taken after her ex-husband was granted the right to jointly own the copyright to his work.

Scott Hammond / Stuff

Alalääkkölä feels her identity was taken after her ex-husband was granted the right to jointly own the copyright to his work.

“Intellectual property, including copyright, is really seen as quite personal because it depends on individual creativity,” Jefferson said.

“If I were her, I would be very upset about that.”

Artist Murray Clode is now thinking about how art should be treated as an asset to properly care for it.

“More [artists] would not have thought of this possible angle. I certainly didn’t.

Having another party copyrighting the same paintings would be like trying to market the same thing, “which is inconvenient for any business.”

“I wouldn’t want to be in this position as an artist because if someone else has a say in how this work is used, it becomes difficult.”

Simone Anderson, director of The Incubator Creative Hub in Tauranga, said she was mortified upon hearing the court ruling.

“Where do you draw the line when it comes to something coming out of your brain?”

“Two people are always individual people with their own thoughts and visions. To suggest that they are entitled to half of that is ridiculous.

She said she felt for Alalääkkölä, knowing the intense process involved in creating art and then being raped. He introduced “slightly disagreeable” subjects into the artists’ relationships.

“Imagine the precedent this could set for divorce in the future. Where does it end? “


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