15 June 2018

Who owns it? A reflection on an iconic youth day image

REMEMBER JUNE 16 1976 FROM MOBILISATION TO ORGANISATIONIn South Africa, June is the month when we celebrate Youth Month. This commemorates the Soweto uprising which happened on 16 June 1976, a turning point for the struggle. In popular memory this event is synonymous with the photograph taken by Sam Nzima of the lifeless body of Hector Pieterson.  Nzima recently passed away on 12 May 2018 and this week on the commemoration day, because of the popularity of his iconic image it is expected that it will circulate on social media.

Nzima gained little financial benefit from this image during his lifetime, which has been listed as one of the most influential photographs ever taken. The rights of the image were only received by Nzima 22 years after he took the photograph. South African copyright law historically gave copyright to the person who commissioned the photograph in respect to publication and reproduction.  Copyright and image usage is an increasingly complex matter given how easy it is for the internet and social media to disseminate images. How does an image of such historical significance in national heritage traverse such issues of dissemination?

Many people use the image without getting permission from the rights holder either because they do not care, or do not know the copyright laws surrounding image use. Archives and museums often need to be incredibly cautious when it comes to rights of images.  There is a distinction between the physical ownership of an item and having copyright to the item. As an archive may have the image in a repository but not be able to give usage rights to the image. 

SAHA as an archive is often approached by organisations and individuals attempting to find copyright permission to use an image even when it is very clear we are not the copyright holder. There is an assumption that because the archive houses it in its repository, that the archive has a say in its copyright. This can be the case at times but is usually not.

Artistic reinterpretation of an image does not fall under the same copyright rules. The iconic photo has been used by artists in their reimagining of the photograph and as a symbol of protest. When viewing posters within the SAHA collection which refer to Youth day and  June 16th most use this image of Nzima’s photograph for bringing their point across. These images are derivatives of an original artwork and so do not fall under the same copyright rules.

There are many complexities when it comes to national heritage symbols, image ownership and image usage. Individuals should bear these complexities in mind and always attribute works correctly when using images so that they do not infringe on copyright.

This is the original image and below you can see some of the poster images which were directly inspired by the photograph. If you click on the posters you will be directed to further information about the individual poster. 

The death of Hector Pieterson This is Sam Nzima's well-known black and white photograph of the dead body of Hector Pieterson being carried by Mbuyisa Makhuba alonside his sister during the Soweto uprising on 16.06.1976. This photograph was digitised by Africa Media Online (AMO) in 2009. Included in SAHA exhibition kit and virtual exhibition - 'The Future is Ours: Commemorating Youth in the Struggle'  

JUNE 16 : SOUTH AFRICAN YOUTH DAY : FORWARD TO PEOPLE'S POWER AL2446_0127This is a silkscreened poster in black and red issued by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).


REMEMBER SOWETO 76-86 This poster is an offset litho in black and white and issued by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO), the African National Congress (ANC), and the South African Communist Party (SACP). It features an image of Hector Pieterson as well as the COSATU, SACP, SAYCO and ANC logos. This poster is an offset litho in black on yellow and was issued by the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) Justice and Peace Commission. The text reads:

Remember June 16 (Hector) STAY-AWAY : JUNE 16 : S.A. YOUTH DAY MASS ACTION FOR PEOPLE'S POWER AL2446_989