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What are the issues with traditional knowledge and cultural expressions?

The intellectual property framework does not easily protect traditional knowledge and Indigenous cultural expression.

Sometimes, the opposite is the case, where the intellectual property framework might operate to allow traditional knowledge and Indigenous cultural expression to be commercially exploited, for great profit, without any economic benefits accruing to the Indigenous communities that made it available in the first place.

For example:

  • An Indigenous community might have knowledge that a particular plant has a medicinal effect. Scientists, with the benefit of that knowledge, undertake research on the plant. They identify the compounds that have the medicinal effect and develop a drug. The pharmaceutical company that produces and markets the drug realises significant profits, and its shareholders benefit financially. However, there are no economic benefits for the Indigenous community that made this possible.
  • The music of an Indigenous folk song might be adapted so that the adaptation is subject to copyright. The copyright holder earns royalties and income from the recording, as well as its performance. However, no royalties or income are shared with the Indigenous community that 'owned' the music before its adaptation.