A Handbook of Contemporary Research
Edited by Matthew Rimmer
Chapter 19: Dignity, trust and identity: private spheres and Indigenous intellectual property
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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