When considering Indigenous knowledge within the discourse of intellectual property, it must be understood that intellectual property itself is a power-laden colonial process. This ongoing colonial process creates a situation in which all people have rights and an interest in their own data. However, Indigenous peoples have specific and unique ethical concerns in relation to the safe storage of its data and its ongoing management.  

AIATSIS supports the use of Indigenous knowledge rather than distiguishing between traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions. These categorisations problematically situate Indigenous knowledge as unchanging or only of the past. Such a categorisation is inadequate and inaccurate as knowledge is always being relived and developed. 

Key points:

  • AIATSIS is of the view that reform to the intellectual property legislative framework is required to make meaningful progress on the protection of Indigenous knowledge. Proposals should not be aspirational, but should seek to create changes which genuinely respect and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to share their knowledge and benefit from that sharing, while at the same time protect knowledge from appropriation and exploitation.
  • The greatest challenge is the inadequacy of legal protections for traditional knowledge. All of the proposals that are aimed at vesting intellectual property rights in Indigenous people may be well intentioned however this does not address the fact that the intellectual property rights available to protect Indigenous knowledge remain limited and inadequate. 
  • There is currently no burden placed upon keeping places and companies to ensure management of materials and data is up to date and to undertake regular assessments of their materials or to return material to Indigenous peoples or involve them in the management of and access to material.
  • With regards to standard terms for licensing traditional knowledge; the development of a series of terms which could be adopted by Indigenous groups, if they choose. This would lessen the burdgen on Indigenous groups who are not resourced to undertake research or seek legal advice.With this information, groups could more easily assert their own standard for conducting research.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples and communities do not understand intellectual property rights and what rights or permissions they may be giving up if engaging in licensing or other IP processes. In addressing this an approach will need to be adopted which has Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the target audience and a campaign created specifically for this purpose.

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