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  5. <title>FSFE - On "Intellectual Property" and Indigenous Peoples</title>
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  8. <h1>On "Intellectual Property" and Indigenous Peoples</h1>
  9. -- <font size="+1"><a href="/about/people/greve/">Georg C.F. Greve</a></font>
  10. <!-- if you translate this article, please add a line like "language translation by name" here -->
  11. <br/><br/>
  12. <p>As a side effect of my work for the World Summit on the Information
  13. Society (WSIS), I made contact with people I might never have met
  14. otherwise. This has proven to be inspiring in ways that I would never
  15. have imagined. </p>
  16. <p>The following is a direct result of my trying to understand the
  17. problems of the Indigenous Peoples and some of their core needs and
  18. concerns, a process that started even before WSIS, when meeting and
  19. discussing with people such as a lawyer from Sri Lanka who is working
  20. to preserve local medical and botanical knowledge.</p>
  21. <p>Although I won't claim understanding the local situation to its
  22. full extent, it seems obvious that Indigenous Peoples all over the
  23. world are suffering from overzealous monopolisation of their grown
  24. knowledge. In particular, pharmaceutical companies are gaining limited
  25. intellectual monopolies, especially patents.</p>
  26. <p>In a dual strategy of using existing power-imbalances and lawsuits
  27. against people who often cannot afford hiring lawyers themselves,
  28. these are afterwards used to exterminate traditional and existing
  29. practices, replacing them by their patented ones, effectively
  30. disallowing usage of what has been common and customary for
  31. generations.</p>
  32. <p>For this problem was created by overzealous monopolisation, I was
  33. surprised that many Indigenous Peoples seem to be demanding even
  34. stronger monopolisation in the form of "intellectual property rights,"
  35. including their culture and heritage.</p>
  36. <p>Having followed the discussions about the problems created by
  37. patenting of genes in Europe where people were (often unknowingly)
  38. deprived of the right to their own, most personal self by physicians
  39. applying to patent genes they found when examining them, such increase
  40. in monopolisation has never provided more freedom.</p>
  41. <p>Feeling solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of this planet, I would
  42. like to understand what has caused you to come to ask for such an
  43. increase in monopolisation. Which is the reason for this document to
  44. exist.</p>
  45. <p>Let me try to express what seems to be the most likely outcome of such
  46. increased monopolisation. How would the situation change for your
  47. peoples if the demands for expansion of limited intellectual
  48. monopolies succeed?</p>
  49. <p>Assuming a perfect world, the foreign monopolisation stops,
  50. Indigenous Peoples are given full "ownership" and "control" over all
  51. their cultural, intellectual and so-called natural resources.</p>
  52. <p>It will not change the situation regarding fundamental problems such
  53. as food, water, health care, education, economy, stability or
  54. political independence. Most importantly, it will not provide access
  55. to the knowledge accumulated by the North that might help with these
  56. issues.</p>
  57. <p>The price to pay for that change is to agree to the basic ideology
  58. that knowledge and culture are things that individuals could "own" and
  59. that it was morally right to give full "ownership" and "control" to
  60. those who built up that knowledge.</p>
  61. <p>If this is the accepted moral benchmark, following the principle of
  62. equality of human rights, Indigenous Peoples have agreed that the
  63. North is morally entitled to not give them access to the knowledge it
  64. assembled over the centuries, which is massively responsible for the
  65. digital divide and global power inequalities.</p>
  66. <p>Also, "intellectual property rights" are pure trading goods. By
  67. including the culture and heritage of Indigenous Peoples in this
  68. system, it is classified primarily as a trading good. It is therefore
  69. to be bought and sold and to be respected for its economic value
  70. before everything else. An ideology that carries within the tendency
  71. to percieve cultural and traditional knowledge mainly as something to
  72. maximise profits from.</p>
  73. <p>Having removed the moral obligation for the North to share its
  74. wealth and knowledge, their traditional knowledge trading good will be
  75. the only bargaining chip of Indigenous Peoples to secure the future of
  76. their peoples.</p>
  77. <p>Because of current global power inequalities, the price and
  78. contractual conditions will be largely dictated by the Northern media
  79. companies. Resisting that would mean being able to afford not making
  80. any deal, at all. But making the deal will often be the only way to
  81. obtain basic access to food, water, health, education and the public
  82. domain of global knowledge.</p>
  83. <p>So in the most extreme case, the culture and heritage of Indigenous
  84. Peoples would end up as the "property" of Northern media
  85. companies. Depending on the contracts, future generations of
  86. Indigenous peoples may not even be entitled to "use" their own
  87. cultural heritage.</p>
  88. <p>Regardless of who gets the monopoly, it is such monopolisation
  89. itself that threatens to cut the social bonds between you and the rest
  90. of humankind. The way rituals are kept alive is by practising and
  91. sharing them, the way to keep languages alive is to speak them with as
  92. many people as possible.</p>
  93. <p>In a system of "intellectual property," sharing, even communicating is
  94. dangerous. Whenever someone who happens to be an author or artist gets
  95. in touch with someone else, they have to be very careful and possibly
  96. break off contact immediately and stop talking to you; otherwise they
  97. risk infringing Copyright and expensive lawsuits in case they may have
  98. felt inspired by the discussion.</p>
  99. <p>That lawsuit may or may be brought upon them by the Indigenous
  100. Peoples or the Northern media company that has "bought" that specific
  101. piece of heritage and now "owns" it.</p>
  102. <p>Consequently the monopolising system is breaking the bond of
  103. solidarity, sharing and communication connecting all of humankind. To
  104. the Indigenous Peoples it means their language, rituals and heritage
  105. will be in danger of becoming extinct along with the last generation
  106. that grew up with them.</p>
  107. <p>So in a perfectly working system and world, the price to pay for such
  108. expansion of monopolies may be nothing less than the cultural identity
  109. of the Indigenous Peoples.</p>
  110. <p>As we don't happen to live in a perfect world, reality won't be as
  111. clean as this, although the price will still have to be paid.</p>
  112. <p>Based upon past experience, one would assume that Northern companies
  113. will hire plenty of expensive lawyers that this particular plant, that
  114. particular ritual and this piece of music is not exclusive to the
  115. Indigenous Peoples they are dealing with, so its "ownership" was
  116. unclear.</p>
  117. <p>If the Indigenous Peoples wish to assert their claims, they will have
  118. to spend years in court with high expenses against the best lawyers
  119. money can buy and corporations that can often afford to wait for a
  120. "biological solution" of their problems -- a cynical euphemism used to
  121. refer to the death of those who have taken them to court.</p>
  122. <p>With or without such cases, they will enter into negotiations with all
  123. the Indigenous Peoples that can arguably make claims to that
  124. "property" and buy from the those that make the cheapest offer,
  125. leaving the others with a suddenly worthless bargaining chip. </p>
  126. <p>If you know that your bargaining chip will be worthless if you don't
  127. make the deal yourself, your willingness to make the deal might
  128. increase quite a bit.</p>
  129. <p>Also, when being offered food and education for their children, other
  130. Indigenous Peoples may be tempted to support the company position in
  131. court. So it seems plausible this will stress the solidarity between
  132. the Indigenous Peoples. Possibly even do damage that cannot be
  133. repaired.</p>
  134. <p>Having turned what was originally a moral and cultural issue into a
  135. trading good and courtroom issue, it will show all normal shortcomings
  136. of the legal systems -- including the question of neutrality and the
  137. tendency to favor those who have the better lawyers.</p>
  138. <p>Some Indigenous Peoples may win in the "intellectual property rights
  139. lottery" by finding some valuable plant or something of equal economic
  140. value. But this lottery will know few winners, but many losers -- and
  141. winning in this context really means coming out below neutral, as the
  142. value will always be small compared to the assembled portfolios of
  143. Northern corporations.</p>
  144. <p>Given the price that is to be paid for playing the system, it is a
  145. kind of russian roulette where all the chambers of the gun but one are
  146. loaded and you have to hope for the empty one.</p>
  147. <p>The system and ideology of "intellectual property" has evolved
  148. exclusively to cater to the needs of large Northern media
  149. corporations. Northern societies, and in particular their artists and
  150. authors, have massive problems with the system themselves. </p>
  151. <p>It is precisely for this system that the digital divide and current
  152. power inequalities are as large as they are.</p>
  153. <p>Considering what seems like the most likely outcome, the only chance
  154. of long-term survival and prosperity for Indigenous Peoples appears to
  155. be less monopolisation, a stop of monopolisation of their cultural and
  156. intellectual resources.</p>
  157. <h3>Perspectives</h3>
  158. <p>Most like the problem should be approached from within and without at
  159. the same time. Find allies active in the field from the North and
  160. train your own people to know the ways of the system so they can help
  161. you questioning it from within. Also they will be able to help you
  162. setting up defenses against immediate attacks while the system still
  163. exists in its current state.</p>
  164. <p>At the same time, it will be necessary to avoid legitimising the
  165. current system and trying to withstand being missionised by the dogma
  166. that "intellectual property" has become.</p>
  167. <p>Part of that will be to avoid the dangerous and ideologically charged
  168. terminology of "intellectual property" and prefer alternative
  169. terminology like "limited intellectual monopolies" or -- even better
  170. when talking about their effects -- to be precise about the specific
  171. areas like copyright and patents exists.</p>
  172. <p>Instead of asking for "ownership and control of," it might be better
  173. to ask for "benefitting fully and with priority from" your "cultural,
  174. intellectual and so-called natural resources."</p>
  175. <p>This emphasises the problem and the need for a solution without
  176. submitting to the ideology and power-system that is "intellectual
  177. property."</p>
  178. <p>I hope this will prove to be a useful contribution to an essential
  179. debate that has happened around the World Summit -- and would like to
  180. see whether we manage to come up with concrete visions on how to
  181. overcome these problems together.</p>
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