King & Wood Mallesons has represented Aboriginal activist artist Richard Bell in a case against New York filmmaker Tanya Steele.
The Federal Court of Australia has awarded Bell damages of $147,000 against the filmmaker.
Bell engaged Steele to assist him in the making of an art film “The Blackfella’s Guide to New York” in 2010, when Bell was a fellow at the Location One studio in New York.
But the filmmaker then claimed that she owned the copyright in the film, and caused the Vimeo website to remove the film from public exhibition.
Bell sued Steele in Australia, asserting that he owned the copyright in the film, and seeking damages for the losses suffered due to her threats.
The Federal Court backed the Australian, and said: "It is clear the client made groundless threats against both the applicant and his agent, Mr Milani."
Bell said the threats have been hanging over his head and impacting his reputation.
“But Ms Steele’s aggressive actions have backfired in her face. I have been vindicated. She will not try to mess with an Aussie again I am sure.”
Josh Milani, of Milani Galleries, said “Richard is one of Australia’s most significant artists. It is good to see the legal system working to protect Australian artists from spurious threats made from New York.”
John Swinson of King & Wood Mallesons, who argued the case for Bell, said “This is the first time damages have been awarded where a third party had content removed from the Internet without legal justification.
“Even though the Vimeo file was hosted outside of Australia, its improper removal caused Mr Bell significant damage in Australia. The court compensated Mr Bell for this loss.”
Bell has engaged well-known New York copyright lawyer, Jonathan Reichman, to enforce the judgment against Steele in New York.
Last year, Bell caused some controversy when he selected the winner of the Sulman art prize by tossing a coin.
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