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Archived updates for Monday, January 24, 2005

Overprotection of Traditional Knowledge Can Be Detrimental

In one of the new series of case studies compiled in "Poor People's Knowledge: Promoting Intellectual Property in Developing Countries," Daniel Wüger concludes that there is no single feasible, legal way to alleviate concerns about the misappropriation of intangible cultural heritage. Developing countries that consider using legal means to protect their intangible cultural heritage should carefully evaluate their needs before deciding what legislative action they want to take:

Careful drafting of IP laws can prevent many problems from developing. In addition, sui generis protective systems are available to provide more comprehensive protection and protection adapted to the specific needs of a country. However, legislators have to be aware of the fact that "overprotection" can be detrimental to other cultural, social, or economic interests. IPRs should not be understood as a fixed set of rules, but merely as a toolbox from which the adequate tools can be chosen and combined. Finally, cultural disintegration is also about social and economic opportunities. An intangible cultural asset will be preserved only if the lifestyle embodying these assets provides valuable economic prospects. Eventually, commercialization of certain aspects of intangible cultural property can contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage as a whole. IP laws can contribute such opportunities in a limited way, but countries have to consider a holistic approach that combines prohibitive action with support initiatives. Capacity building and promoting understanding on IP issues, especially within indigenous and local communities, have to be a further important component of that policy.

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