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Guide to protecting traditional knowledge

Press release: Guide to protecting traditional knowledge and culture published

Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Noumea, Monday November 13, 2006:
How can Pacific Island countries and territories protect their culture and traditions from unfair exploitation?

An important - and free - handbook published today gives a pathway to policy-makers looking to protect indigenous culture by legal means. The book is called The Guidelines: Guidelines for developing national legislation for the protection of traditional knowledge and expressions of culture based on the Pacific Model Law 2002.

Produced by the Cultural Development Bureau of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community with the support of the New Zealand government, the 90-page book outlines issues that policy-makers need to consider when developing national legislation to protect traditional knowledge and expressions of culture from theft and misuse.

“Most Pacific Islands countries and territories don’t have legal tools to protect their expressions of culture and their intellectual property,“ says Jimmie Rodgers, SPC’s Director-General.

However, appropriation and commercialism of Pacific culture by non-Pacific people and entities is widespread.

“For example, traditional Solomon Islands music was used, without permission being sought, for a commercial compact disc produced in Europe,” says Dr Rodgers. “Traditional Tongan designs have been found on wrapping paper in shops in New York.

“All too often, the owners of the expressions of culture are not asked for permission and they don’t share in any of the commercial benefits. Too often, things are used out of their cultural context.”

Dr Rodgers adds: “This is not only unfair, it is often very upsetting for the people who own or are custodians of the knowledge. As manifestations of intellectual creativity, traditional knowledge and expressions of culture deserve to be accorded the same legal protection that is provided to other forms of intellectual property.”

New Zealand's Associate Commerce Minister, Judith Tizard, also welcomed the release of the guidelines.

"I am delighted that the New Zealand Government has been able to support the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in this initiative. The preservation, protection and promotion of traditional knowledge is crucial for Pacific communities.

“Traditional knowledge is integral to the lives of Pacific people and is critical to their health, culture, identity, education, food security and natural resources management."

According to Rhonda Griffiths, SPC’s Cultural Development Adviser, the handbook is designed to help policymakers consider their options as they explore the legal framework offered in the “Pacific Model Law”, its full title The Model Law for the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Culture.

The model law was developed by Pacific legal and cultural experts with the Cultural Development Bureau and endorsed by Pacific Ministers of Culture in 2002.

Countries are encouraged to adapt the law to suit their situations, and Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Palau have all taken concrete steps towards implementation.

* For a copy of The Guidelines, see


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