Cultural appropriation

The story usually begins when someone publishes a content of cultural origin that triggers a reaction from the public, a community, or a group. This happens across multiple areas such as fashion, music, film, and art.

Cultural appropriation happens when a person uses elements of traditional cultural expressions without the permission of its holders.

Three key points to understand, avoid, or manage this problem:

  • Definition of traditional cultural expressions (TCEs)

Cultural expressions are part of the identity and tradition of the group or groups that possess them. These expressions can take many forms: images, designs, dances, ceremonies, songs, among many others. In some places, they can also be explained as elements of folklore.

  • Some methods to protect TCEs via Intellectual Property
  1. Certification mark: certifies special qualities, characteristics, or attributes in products or services. 
  2. Collective mark: identifies goods or services belonging to a defined group, and only members of that group may use the trademark.
  3. Copyright: artistic expressions can be (often) protected without registration.

For protection to be effective, it is advisable to organize a group of stakeholders, that is, a significant number that legitimately represents the interests of the group that owns the cultural expression.

  • Commercialization of TCEs

Intellectual Property is not merely to enjoy exclusive use or to keep others off our property. It can also serve to reap benefits as a commercialization tool.

If the group holding the TCE agrees, they can license its use. The terms and conditions of these agreements can be strictly defined by specifying the time, the place where they can be used, the form of use, identifiers of the origin of the TCE, the possibility of sublicensing, etc.

At the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), negotiations are currently underway to achieve an international instrument to “ensure the effective protection of traditional knowledge (TK), traditional cultural expressions (TCEs) and genetic resources (GRs).”

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