World Intellectual Property Organization

Traditional Cultural Expressions

Traditional cultural expressions (TCEs), also called "expressions of folklore", may include music, dance, art, designs, names, signs and symbols, performances, ceremonies, architectural forms, handicrafts and narratives, or many other artistic or cultural expressions.

Traditional cultural expressions:

  • May be considered as the forms in which traditional culture is expressed;
  • Form part of the identity and heritage of a traditional or indigenous community;
  • Are passed down from generation to generation.

TCEs are integral to the cultural and social identities of indigenous and local communities, they embody know-how and skills, and they transmit core values and beliefs.

Their protection is related to the promotion of creativity, enhanced cultural diversity and the preservation of cultural heritage.

Traditionally dressed Timorese in the district of Alieu, Timor-Leste (Photo: UN Photo/M. Perret).

Traditional cultural expressions and intellectual property

For many communities, TCEs, traditional knowledge and associated genetic resources form part of a single integrated heritage. Yet, because TCEs raise some particular legal and policy questions in IP, they receive a distinct focus in many national and regional IP laws and in WIPO’s work.

TCEs can sometimes be protected by existing systems, such as copyright and related rights, geographical indications, appellations of origin and trademarks. For example, contemporary adaptations of folklore are copyrightable, while performances of traditional songs and music may come under the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty and Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances.

Trademarks can be used to identify authentic indigenous arts, as the Maori Arts Board in New Zealand, Te Waka Toi, has done. Some countries also have special legislation for the protection of folklore.

WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore is negotiating international legal protection of TCEs.

  • UNESCO-WIPO Model Provisions for National Laws PDF, UNESCO-WIPO Model Provisions for National Laws

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