Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property

The Many Faces of the Public Domain

Edited by Charlotte Waelde and Hector MacQueen

As technological progress marches on, so anxiety over the shape of the public domain is likely to continue if not increase. This collection helps to define the boundaries within which the debate over the shape of law and policy should take place.

Chapter 12: Audiences in Tradition: Traditional Knowledge and the Public Domain

Johanna Gibson

Subjects: law - academic, intellectual property law


Johanna Gibson 1 Introduction Indigenous and traditional knowledge has emerged as critical subject matter in international trade and development. While presenting significant commercial and research potential in various areas of knowledge and technology – including medicine, agriculture and creative industries – such cultural resources are also intrinsic to the integrity and identity specific to local and traditional communities. Historically, the appropriation of that knowledge was ‘justified’ as legitimate spoils of colonial, scientific and anthropological endeavour, where the knowledge (like any other aspect of the environment ‘discovered’ through colonial exploration) was itself deemed ‘natural’, part of humanity’s global heritage, and for the benefit of all. Indeed, the subjugation of the knowledge and cultures of colonised peoples to the ‘superior’ knowledge of the coloniser can be identified as a critical aspect of the imperialist process. Similarly, within current concerns over expanding intellectual property rights, access to knowledge, and the vitality of the ‘public domain’, the debate over traditional knowledge seems to be dominated by the prior and governing concerns of a global knowledge of a global public. In other words, traditional knowledge was, and to an extent continues to be, interpreted within the dominant legal and social discourse as common heritage rather than creative or personal knowledge. The knowledge of traditional and indigenous communities is Gray, S. (1996), ‘Squatting in Red Dust: Non-Aboriginal Law’s Construction of the “Traditional” Aboriginal Artist’, 14(2) Law in Context 29, 30. Note also the rejection of this management of traditional knowledge as public domain goods, with respect to...

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