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Journal of American Folklore 117.465 (2004) 296-299

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American Folklore Society Recommendations to the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge, and Folklore

In pursuing its mandate, the Intergovernmental Committee (IGC) on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge, and Folklore (GRTKF) of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) must confront a wide range of issues of interest to folklorists and the individuals and communities with which they work. These issues range from basic definitions of folklore and traditional knowledge to the rights of traditional knowledge and folklore bearers and from the relationships between folklorists and the people they collaborate with in their work to the relevancy of current legal regimes of national and international intellectual property to the needs and local processes developed through customary and traditional systems.

The American Folklore Society (AFS) is an association of scholars and other professionals who create and communicate knowledge about folklore. Our more than 1,200 members are scholars and teachers at colleges and universities, professionals in arts and cultural organizations, and community members involved in folklore work. Members of the American Folklore Society live and work throughout the world.

I. General IGC Processes and Participation

The American Folklore Society believes that the issues in front of the IGC are deserving of international assessment, and we applaud the work of the IGC in addressing issues of considerable concern to communities and peoples throughout the world. In order that the IGC best achieve its objectives in a process that provides input from all relevant stakeholders, the AFS recommends the following:

  1. WIPO should take the necessary steps (including the provision of financial support) to ensure the equitable and meaningful participation of indigenous peoples and traditional knowledge communities in discussions of the IGC—GRTKF. WIPO should recognize that the needs of member states are not necessarily synonymous with those of the indigenous and traditional knowledge communities that reside within their [End Page 296] boundaries and that the rights and interests of these groups may run counter to those of member nations.
  2. WIPO should take the necessary steps to ensure that conclusions of the IGC—GRTKF and similar bodies incorporate the identified needs of indigenous peoples and traditional knowledge communities who are the primary guardians and interpreters of their cultures. The peoples and communities affected by the work of the IGC—GRTKF should have a major role in determining the results of that work.
  3. WIPO should recognize that traditional knowledge and folklore are part of the culture of both indigenous peoples and nonindigenous peoples. The latter includes groups who have developed significant traditional knowledge and folklore over the course of generations in locations different from their historical places of origin.
  4. WIPO must comprehensively communicate the results of this committee's work, as well as all WIPO laws dealing with intellectual property rights and traditional knowledge and folklore, to indigenous peoples and traditional knowledge communities.

II. Traditional Knowledge and Folklore

Of particular concern to the AFS is the consideration of the impacts of intellectual property regimes on traditional knowledge and folklore, and especially on those individuals and groups who actively maintain the dynamic traditions and lore that contribute to the world's knowledge and diversity. This knowledge has been, and continues to be, a significant source of social, cultural, economic, and political power. The AFS believes that the IGC—GRTKF must consistently strive to be sensitive to the needs of diverse knowledge systems and communities, as well as to issues of social and political justice bound up in diverse forms of expressive culture. The AFS thus recommends the following steps as intrinsic to maintaining sensitivity and respect of traditional knowledge and folklore and the bearers of these traditions:

  1. WIPO and other relevant intergovernmental organizations should provide assistance and capacity building to developing nations, indigenous peoples, and traditional knowledge communities through the provision of (1) technical assistance on matters relating to intellectual property, traditional knowledge, and folklore; (2) technical assistance on the documentation and conservation of traditional knowledge and folklore; and...


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