Table of Contents

Indigenous Intellectual Property

Indigenous Intellectual Property

A Handbook of Contemporary Research

Research Handbooks in Intellectual Property series

Edited by Matthew Rimmer

This Handbook considers the international struggle to provide for proper and just protection of Indigenous intellectual property. Leading scholars consider legal and policy controversies over Indigenous knowledge in the fields of international law, copyright law, trademark law, patent law, trade secrets law, and cultural heritage. This collection examines national developments in Indigenous intellectual property from around the world. As well as examining the historical origins of conflicts over Indigenous knowledge, the volume examines new challenges to Indigenous intellectual property from emerging developments in information technology, biotechnology, and climate change.

Chapter 7: Avatar dreaming: Indigenous cultural protocols and making films using Indigenous content

Terri Janke

Subjects: law - academic, cultural heritage and art law, human rights, intellectual property law


In November 2009, my ten-year-old son put a yellow post-it note on the fridge door. It said 30 days until Avatar. The next day, the post-it note was replaced with another. This continued each day, as he counted down the days until Avatar the movie was to be released in Australian cinemas. I must admit I had no idea about the movie until my son’s communications. Further, I had no knowledge of the movie’s theme until I saw the movie. I watched it and was entertained, yet identified a strong parallel of the movie’s plot to the plight of Indigenous people worldwide. The film’s plot reflected the dispossession of Indigenous people’s land and resources at the hands of colonisers. It also drew on common cultural practices of international Indigenous people for characterisation and the identity of the Na’vi people. As an Indigenous person, my reaction was one of emotion and pride for Indigenous resilience. The Indigenous themes were obvious to me and reflective of a plight that continues today. Avatar made $2.7 billion worldwide at the box office. It was considered a leader in 3D technology. There was a blue ray release, extended cuts, books and merchandising. Two years later, I read of several claims against the filmmaker James Cameron’s company which alleged copying.

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