Adèle Redmond / Stuff
Marlborough Sounds artist Sirpa Alalääkkölä is known for her larger-than-life depictions of her native region.
An artist may have to share 20 years of paintings and their copyrights with her ex-husband, after a court ruled that they counted as property of the relationship.
Sirpa Elise Alalääkkölä separated from her husband Paul Anthony Palmer in 2017.
They went to Blenheim Family Court last year to share their possessions, including the family home in the Marlborough Sounds and the paintings Alalääkkölä created during their marriage.
The judge ruled last year that copyright law grants copyright to the creator of the works of art and that Alalääkkölä’s jurisdiction to create them existed before the relationship began, so that copyright could not be owned by the relationship.
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There was no clear record of the number of paintings belonging to Alalääkkölä and Palmer. Palmer had visited the former family home to collect a large number of works of art after the separation. Alalääkkölä also had paintings in a hotel and gallery in Finland, where she was born.
The judge ruled that Palmer could keep the paintings Alalääkkölä had agreed to keep.
The family home was also to be divided. Alalääkkölä had lived there since the separation and hosted AirBnB guests.
The judge ruled that Alalääkkölä should have the first opportunity to buy the house once it has been appraised and if it doesn’t, Palmer will have the option, otherwise it has to be auctioned off.
Alalääkkölä also had to pay $ 300 in rent for each week she lived in the house since the separation.
Palmer appealed the family court ruling, demanding an equal share of the paintings and their copyright, which he intended to copy and sell as income.
He also thought the rent of $ 300 was too low and he wanted the house to go up for auction immediately.
Judge Andru Isac heard Palmer’s appeal in the Blenheim High Court in July.
In his ruling, released on Tuesday, he said it seemed like copyright law and property (relationships) law were interacting in a way that had never been considered in New Zealand, and that the family court judge was faced with a difficult decision.
“This appeal raises a new question: is copyright in an artistic working relationship property? Asked Judge Isaac. “I found it to be.”
Covid-19 is prompting couples to separate in numbers that family lawyers and mediators say they struggle to keep up with.
Copyright has long been viewed as property, and nothing in the Copyright Act suggested that it should be treated any differently from any other type of property produced during a relationship.
The Property (Relationships) Act required that the property in the relationship be divided equally, except in extraordinary circumstances. And the 20-year marriage was long enough for the law to apply as intended, Judge Isac said.
The copyright valuation would be the real challenge, but seemed necessary to ensure an equal division, and would likely require expert witnesses to testify to help family court determine their value.
The paintings would also be difficult to separate without a total inventory list of the paintings or information on their location, he said.
Judge Isac said the family court judge only allowed Palmer to keep the paintings Alalääkkölä had agreed he could keep, so it looked like Palmer had not received a half share, neither in value nor in number.
However, Palmer shouldn’t assume he would receive specific paintings – it was just a way to divide their property. For example, works of art could be entrusted to one person and the proceeds from the sale of the house adjusted to create an equal distribution of value.
Gallery owners across the country are reporting an unprecedented increase in art sales since the end of the Covid-19 lockdown. (Video first published in December 2020).
Judge Isac said the weekly rent of $ 300 was reasonable and the judge’s orders on how the house should be sold were fair. The sale was put on hold when Palmer filed his appeal.
However, he ordered that the case be returned to family court, due to his findings on copyright and the paintings being the property of the relationship. If Alalääkkölä and Palmer could not resolve their differences, the paintings and their copyright could be assessed and divided by the court, Judge Isac said.