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The Contemporary Pacific 15.2 (2003) 484-486

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Protection of Intellectual, Biological, and Cultural Property in Papua New Guinea, edited by Kathy Whimp and Mark Busse. Canberra: Asia Pacific Press; Port Moresby, PNG: Conservation Melanesia, Inc, 2000. ISBN0-7315-3663-0; xiv + 216 pages, table, abbreviations, notes, bibliography, index. A$32.00.

Conferences on intellectual property rights have given rise to a number of publications over the last decade. What places this volume apart is that it focuses specifically on the situation in Papua New Guinea. As a World Trade Organization member, Papua New Guinea has obligated itself to develop intellectual property laws. Whimp and Busse's volume provides some insight into the questions such a decision raises for a Third World nation.

The contributors to the volume do not address the need for one or more laws on intellectual, biological, and cultural property; that is more or less accepted as a given. The questions raised concern how these laws should be realized, what they should cover, and how the laws should be implemented within the specific context of Papua New Guinea.

The contributions were originally presented in Port Moresby in August 1997 at a seminar on intellectual property rights in biological and cultural materials. The contributors are from a variety of backgrounds: anthropology, biology, pharmacology, archaeology, ethnomusicology, and law. This clearly indicates the scope of the problems addressed. The development of intellectual property laws in Papua New Guinea has received various stimuli throughout the 1990s: Papua New Guinea's signing of the Convention of Biological Diversity in 1992, its adoption of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property, and its membership of the World Intellectual Property Organization.

The first three chapters focus on the wider context involved in the discussion of intellectual property rights. Busse and Whimp specify the main concepts involved and provide a brief historical overview of English (intellectual) property law. With England and Australia as primary colonial influences in Papua New Guinea, this choice for historical background is logical, although it is more usual to look at United States law as a context for debate. Harroun presents a useful overview of existing approaches to intellectual property rights and the rationale behind their use. Strathern provides a perspective on intellectual property in Papua New Guinea itself, giving specific attention to the communal rights usually held by indigenous peoples. What becomes clear in all three chapters is that intellectual property rights are a western legal concept that does not automatically or by definition fit the Papua New Guinea situation.

In the next four chapters, the various [End Page 484] aspects of safeguarding indigenous culture by legal means are looked at in the context of specific cases. Busse follows the gradually developing legal protection of cultural property from the early English colonial regime to the present-day National Cultural Property (Preservation) Act. Simet and Muke provide further explorations of the meaning of intellectual property in the indigenous context, and as such provide examples for some of the arguments made by Strathern. Niles appraises the effects the application of copyright would have on the local music business. He shows the effects to be ambiguous. While copyright would protect indigenous musicians from the theft of their music by western musicians, the same practice by Papua New Guinea musicians would also be halted in its tracks, hugely inflating the costs of producing music locally.

The chapters by Kambuou, Matainaho, and Whimp explore not only the possibilities for protecting genetic resources provided by (inter)national law, but also the implications such protection has for indigenous peoples, and the steps needed to reach agreements whereby both science (and, implicitly, the pharmaceutical industry) and indigenous peoples may profit.

In the concluding chapter, Tobin explores the possibilities of developing a "sui generis" or "special purpose" regime for the access to intellectual, biological, and cultural property in Papua New Guinea, starting from local needs instead of international laws and agreements. Though his efforts focus on the protection of biodiversity, they apply in general to the wider context of intellectual and cultural...


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