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Yale Human Rights & Development Law Journal


The definition and scope of intellectual property and associated laws are under intense debate in the emerging discourse surrounding intellectual property and human rights. These debates primarily arise within the context of indigenous peoples' rights to protection and ownership of culturally specific properties. It is true that intellectual property laws are based on Western, developed markets, Western concepts of creation and invention, and Western concepts of ownership. But whatever their origins, those laws have been, and currently are, the primary vehicle for the protection of artistic, literary, and scientific works worldwide. To segregate indigenous interests from this international legal regime, particularly in light of the increasing globalization of markets, is to deny indigenous peoples both a powerful legal shield and a powerful legal sword. This Article argues that copyright laws can, and must, be expanded so as to maintain the vitality of, and protect, the creative artistic and literary works of indigenous cultures. The article proposes three major changes to international copyright law: the incorporation of collective and communal notions of authorship, the expansion of the originality requirement to reflect these forms of authorship, and the application of limits on the duration of copyright protection in a broader community context. The article further proposes that a variety of intellectual property mechanisms be drawn upon to provide special protection for “sacred” cultural works.

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