World Intellectual Property Organization

WIPO to Launch Pilot Training Program for Indigenous Communities

Geneva, May 20, 2008
PR/2008/553

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) will launch in September 2008 a pilot program to assist indigenous communities to document their own cultural traditions, archive this heritage for future generations, and safeguard their interest in authorizing use of their recordings and traditions by third parties.  

New technologies provide communities with fresh opportunities to document and digitize expressions of their traditional cultures, meeting the strong desire of communities to preserve, promote and pass on their cultural heritage to succeeding generations. Yet, these new forms of documentation and digitization can leave this cultural heritage vulnerable to unwanted exploitation beyond the traditional circle. This pilot program recognizes both the utility of technology for indigenous communities and the paramount need to empower communities to make informed decisions about how to manage intellectual property issues in a way that corresponds with community values and development goals.

The pilot program will begin in September, 2008, when two members of a Maasai community from Laikipia, Kenya and an expert from the National Museums of Kenya will travel to the American Folklife Center (AFC) and then to the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) in the United States of America for intensive, hands-on training in documentary techniques and archival skills necessary for effective community-based cultural conservation. WIPO staff will provide intellectual property training. WIPO will also provide the Maasai with a basic kit of field equipment, computers and software for their own use when they return to Kenya. 

The pilot program is a collaboration among WIPO and the AFC at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and the CDS at Duke University in North Carolina.

Mr. Francis Gurry, Deputy Director General of WIPO, who is responsible for WIPO’s work on these issues said “This innovative capacity-building partnership with the Maasai community of Laikipia addresses a pressing yet legally and practically complex question – how can indigenous and local communities record and promote their traditional cultural expressions without ceding authority over how the recordings are used by third parties?” Mr. Gurry added “Our goal is to empower tradition-bearers to preserve and pass on their own traditional cultures if they wish to do so while safeguarding their intellectual property rights and interests. Testing these ideas through this community-led pilot program is a big step toward that goal.” He noted that the results of the pilot will be shared with other indigenous communities and depending on the feedback, WIPO could envisage offering similar programs to other communities and institutions from other countries.

The training program will enable the Maasai to acquire the requisite technical skills as well as provide the necessary equipment to document and digitize their cultural heritage on an on-going basis. The National Museums of Kenya will be available to provide ongoing institutional support. The Maasai community and the National Museums of Kenya will participate directly as partners in evaluating this pilot initiative and together will make recommendations for its improvement and further development.

This pilot program stems from a request received by WIPO directly from the Maasai community. At its invitation, WIPO made an exploratory visit to the community in late 2006, together with the International Labor Office in Geneva (ILO). This visit was also facilitated by the Kenyan Government’s Task Force appointed to develop laws and policies for the protection of traditional knowledge, genetic resources and folklore. In consultation with the community, WIPO contacted Dr. Peggy Bulger, Director of the AFC, and, based on the Center’s successful history of producing Folklife Field Schools for Cultural Documentation, invited the AFC to develop this pilot training program. AFC in turn contacted CDS, led by Dr. Tom Rankin. AFC and CDS developed the curriculum for the training program together. The curriculum will include such topics as project planning, research ethics, digital archival methods, documentation techniques and database and website development and management. The US Copyright Office will also lend its support to the intellectual property component of the program being offered by WIPO.

This pilot project forms part of WIPO’s Creative Heritage Project, which is developing an integrated set of practical resources and guidelines for cultural institutions such as museums and indigenous communities on managing intellectual property options when digitizing intangible cultural heritage.

For further information, please contact the Media Relations Section at WIPO:

  • Tel: (+41 22) - 338 81 61 / 338 72 24
  • Fax: (+41 22) - 338 81 40
  • E-mail

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