Research Handbooks in Intellectual Property series
Edited by Christophe Geiger
Chapter 30: Right to culture and copyright: Participation and access
Once upon a time, the international standardization of intellectual property rights (IPRs) was first accused of being accomplice, if not the direct perpetrator, of a systematic violation of human rights in developing countries. Back then, scholars and activists were mainly focusing on pharmaceutical patents and the right to health. Later on, several stories of biopiracy turned the spotlight towards the protection of traditional knowledge and the insufficiency of the current IP regime in providing tools to recognize community ownership and to build benefit-sharing schemes. This was the moment when cultural rights made their debut on the scene, but only for a quick, ephemeral shot, before being substituted by debates concerning the hefty expansion of patent law. Parallel to this, and predominantly in developed countries, copyright enforcement started being questioned on the ground of its potential negative effects on freedom of expression. It was a significant – although not completely successful – attempt to introduce a constitutional and human rights reasoning into the IP law arena. Yet, cultural rights could never manage to gain their place on the field. The question is, eventually, why. Among human rights, cultural rights have always been considered as a sort of Cinderella. Their analysis and implementation have long been underdeveloped, despite their formal recognition with the establishment of UNESCO in 1945 and their inclusion in the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1966.
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