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 19: Dignity, trust and identity: private spheres and Indigenous intellectual property

Bruce Baer Arnold

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


It is axiomatic in much contemporary debate about intellectual property principles and practice that knowledge and cultural expression are commodities. That debate often centres on disagreement about the distribution of rewards in transactions involving those commodities, with, for example, claims that there are insufficient incentives for the development of innovations such as pharmaceuticals, that the creativity of artists is being stifled by a mix of legal restrictions and inappropriate transaction costs, that patent thickets deny public access to life-altering diagnostic and therapeutic tools, or that copyright law privileges publishers over scholars. Critics have similarly decried the exploitation of Indigenous peoples, with, for example, claims that bioprospecting (sometimes characterized as biopiracy or biocolonialism) are equivalent to strip-mining in favouring investors based in the global North at the expense of communities in the global South, or that the possessive individualism inherent in Western law encourages commercial appropriation of the culture that gives meaning to the lives of some Indigenous people. This chapter offers a different perspective on Indigenous traditional knowledge and cultural expression, i.e. pre-modern understandings and representations of the world. As other chapters in this book indicate, those representations and understanding are not necessarily encompassed within existing Australian and international legal frameworks such as the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), the Berne Convention and the Paris Convention.

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