Protection of traditional cultural expressions is a complex knot

(IPRinfo 3/2009)

Yovana Reyes Tagle
Reseacher, Department of Private Law, University of Helsinki

The book reviewed: Christoph Beat Graber and Mira Burri-Nenova (eds): Intellectual Property and Traditional Cultural Expressions in a Digital Environment. 2008, 352 pp, ISBN 978 1 84720 921

The protection of traditional cultural expressions (TCE) has long plagued the thoughts of scholars and policy makers.
Discussions over such protection have been held in different international fora. A number of international organizations have addressed this issue from their own perspectives and to achieve their specific goals and targets.

Although well intended, this has made such protection more complex. The authors of the different papers in the book Intellectual Property and Traditional Cultural Expressions in a Digital Environment express their concerns or questions about key points that remain unresolved, have often been overlooked or insufficiently addressed in the international debate for the protection or promotion of TCE.

The collection contains 12 papers. Some of the issues addressed in these papers include the current context surrounding the issue of the protection or promotion of TCE, the instrumentalization of traditional knowledge (TK) for biological and economic purposes, the fragmentation of international law and the types and causes of fragmentation in the domain of TCE, the concept of a human right to intellectual property in TCE, the relationship between human rights, the existence of the right to culture and intellectual property, the right to culture and its nature, and the limits of IPR instruments to protect cultural rights.
Some issues that remain unanswered, such as the definition of the term TCE and the scope of “protection of TCE”, have also been scrutinized.

The authors explored discussions at different multilateral forums that have attempted to agree on some sort of protection for TCE, in particular WIPO and the work of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore, and UNESCO. Calls for a more coherent, integrated, consistent, complementary and coordinated approach among the international efforts and instruments have been made.

The historical approach adopted by the first paper appropriately illustrates the evolution of the concept TCE. The author traces the shifts that this concept has experienced over time. Furthermore, an interesting analysis of the UNESCO Conventions and the human rights dimensions of TCE can be found in this book. The relationship between TCE and social and cultural development, and the impact of new technologies on the protection and promotion of TCE form part of the analysis in this collection.

Those interested in deepening their knowledge about the relationship between human rights, intellectual property and traditional cultural expressions find this book quite informative. As a whole, these papers touch upon conceptual and practical problems, raise legal questions and suggest policy solutions to protect TCE.