7 July

Artists in the Black Coordinator, Jacqueline Cornforth, attends WIPO

What is WIPO?

WIPO stands for the World Intellectual Property Organisation. WIPO is a self-funded agency of the United Nations and was established in 1967.

WIPO is at the forefront of developing Intellectual Property systems to enable innovation and creativity throughout the world. They try to assist governments, businesses and the wider community in understanding the benefits of Intellectual Property.

WIPO has 188 member states and 250 or so non-governmental organisations and intergovernmental organisation which are called Observers and who hold official observer status at WIPO Meetings.

Arts Law is one of these Observers.

What is it attempting to achieve?

WIPO has an Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC). The purpose of this committee is to negotiate the development of an international legal instrument or instruments for the effective protection of traditional cultural expressions (TCE) and traditional knowledge (TK), and to address the intellectual property aspects of access to and benefit-sharing in genetic resources (GR).

What is the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore?

Participation in the IGC is open to WIPO member states and accredited inter-governmental (IGO) and non-governmental (NGO) organizations such as Arts Law.

Why is this important to Australia?

It is important to Australia and in particular, Indigenous Australia because we have the most outstanding array of Indigenous peoples in world. For too long our people and our cultures have faced misappropriation which have had devastating impacts on our land, our families and our rights to practice culture and maintain our traditional knowledge.

Although there are currently Intellectual Property laws in Australia that can assist in the protection of Traditional Knowledge, Traditional Cultural Expressions and Genetic Resources, these laws were never made to align with Indigenous people’s laws and cultural heritage.

Therefore it is so important to continue the push to develop an international instrument that can allow for the effective protection of Indigenous culture and what makes us who we are.

Why were you there?

At the annual General Assembly of WIPO in 2014, there were no decisions made on the work program of the IGC for 2015. Therefore any negotiations on an international instrument for the protection of traditional cultural expression and traditional knowledge have been suspended. However, in order to continue the important discussions on these important issues, WIPO has put in place seminars to gather member states, observers and Indigenous representatives from around the world. These seminars provide the Indigenous and local community representatives with a valuable opportunity to acquire and exchange information on existing local, regional and national practices, case studies and policy issues regarding IP and GRs, TK and TCEs. One was held at the end of March, and I attended the most recent one was last week from 23 – 25 June 2015.

Arts Law has been attending IGC’s and General Assembly meetings since 2007 so I was pleased to be invited to attend June’s Seminar. The traditional division of WIPO announced that the Swiss Institute of Intellectual Property would like to financially assist Indigenous representatives to take part in the June seminar and I was lucky enough to be a successful recipient of this funding.

 

What did you get up to while you were there?

My days were filled from top to bottom with Roundtables, where speakers and presenters from around the world would take to the stage to talk about many different aspects of Traditional Knowledge, Traditional Cultural Expressions and Genetic Resources in regards to Intellectual Property. It was amazing to see the array of presenters and understand the work they were doing in their own countries.

I was also invited to attend the Indigenous representative meetings on a daily basis, which was made up of the 20 funded recipients from around the world. These meetings were a great way to understand what Indigenous peoples from around the world were doing locally and to meet those representatives who have been a part of the IGC process from many years.

One thing is for sure; Indigenous peoples from around the world are all passionate about their people and want to do their best to make sure our cultures are protected. There are amazing similarities between Indigenous peoples from around the world in terms of the misappropriation of culture and the impact it has their communities.

What were the outcomes?

There were no formal outcomes from this seminar. The informal nature of the seminar did not allow for any decisions about the future of the IGC work program, however we hope to participate in any upcoming gatherings of WIPO member states, observers and Indigenous representatives and hope there is funding in the future to help us do this.

Arts Law is at the forefront of helping Australia’s creative people understand their rights to protect their art practice, so it’s very important to us to continue to be involved with and work towards achieving outcomes through the IGC.

What is the ultimate aim?

The ultimate aim is to have an international legal instrument or instruments that effectively protect traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources and have it translated into real law in Australia so we can have reciprocal protections here in Australia and abroad.

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