The hand that sets the table... The political economy and self-reflexive project of intellectual property law in relation to traditional knowledge
Author: Hermanns, Kwela Sabine
Source: International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics, Volume 1, Number 1, 1 February 2005 , pp. 67-88(22)
Abstract:The article critically examines the political economy of intellectual property (IP), and the encounter within TRIPS between traditional knowledge holders and a Western-led international IP law regime that is turning ever more global. Patents, copyright and trade marks are protected by intellectual property rights. The international regime which governs these is based on Western thinking around ownership and has most recently culminated in the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). TRIPS is an attempt to harmonize and enforce intellectual property on a global scale. But this globalizing IP regime has difficulty accommodating the more localized interests of developing countries and indigenous communities who find themselves rich in traditional knowledge (TK). For a number of reasons, TK is not easily accommodated by Western IP law categories. Therefore, TK often remains unprotected by law, and this can lead to uneven commercial and cultural exploitation of agricultural, medicinal and biodiversity-related knowledge, as well as of expressions of folklore in music, dance, song, designs, stories, artwork and handicraft. The article calls for a renewed focus on moral philosophy in addressing the power relations and the negotiations between different IP interests. A brief history of Western IP law is included to illuminate these interests, and global IP law is challenged to develop novel self-reflexive identities to reflect heterogeneity and difference. At the same time, the interests of traditional knowledge holders are discussed, and an attempt is made to group these into categories including articulations for remuneration, recognition, and return of traditional knowledge. The article suggests that these various articulations themselves use, directly or indirectly, traditional Western categories of intellectual ownership and protection. The article further argues that in circumstances in which the international IP law regime is associated with an over-homogenized legal self-identity, and with legal-legislative imperialist practices, a global regime should build cultural bridges and incorporate legal hybridities and heterogeneous identities.
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: School of Media, Language and Music, University of Paisley
Publication date: February 1, 2005
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