World Intellectual Property Organization

Book Review

June 2009


Intangible Cultural Heritage and Intellectual Property Communities – Cultural Diversity and Sustainable Development

Toshiyuki Kono (ed.) January, 2009 | ISBN 978-90-5095-758-8 | xvi + 416 pp. | Price: €75.00

Intangible cultural heritage (ICH) consists of all practices, expressions, knowledge and skills that communities and individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. Oral traditions, dance, music, rituals and festive events, knowledge concerning nature, and craftsmanship, among others, are all manifestations of ICH. In 2003, UNESCO adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, whose purposes are to safeguard ICH, but also to ensure its respect, to raise awareness about its importance, and to provide for international cooperation and assistance.

Professor Toshiyuki Kono, Faculty of Law, Kyushu University, Japan, participated as an expert in the drafting of the Convention. In the course of his work, Professor Kono sensed that cooperation between WIPO and UNESCO on ICH issues could be strengthened and mutual understanding reinforced. To help remedy that situation, Kyushu University co-organized an international conference in India in 2007 on the interface between ICH and intellectual property (IP) under the Convention. The conference provided a forum for professionals in the field of protection of cultural traditions.

The book, meticulously edited by Professor Kono, is a compilation of extended conference papers, which together compose a major work on the interface between the legal protection and safeguarding of ICH. Several chapters address the work of WIPO and, in particular, the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC)

The book gathers the views of scholars and practitioners with diverse expertise (lawyers, anthropologists, policy makers, academics, ethnomusicologists, archivists, and others), and national backgrounds (e.g., India, Brazil, Australia and Canada). It offers a broad overview of the issues crucial to the survival of ICH, a mainspring of cultural diversity and a source of sustainable development.

The book covers four main themes and opens with an outline of unanswered questions surrounding the ICH Convention that are then developed in subsequent chapters.

Part two provides an analysis of ICH inventories as a means of safeguarding ICH, and lays out the controversies and limits arising from the establishment of inventories. Wend B. Wendland, of WIPO’s Global IP Issues Division, explores the IP dimension and takes a look at IP options when documenting, recording and digitizing ICH. In part three, the book delves into the important issue of community ownership of ICH. The authors explain the issues of control over cultural traditions and the recognition of communities and their ICH. In part four, the authors examine the notion of prior informed consent (PIC), designed to empower the bearers of cultural traditions. Perhaps the book’s most interesting feature is that it addresses, in part five, the benefits and potential negative consequences of ICH safeguarding efforts and regulatory regimes.

This thorough approach to the topic of ICH will be of great value to anyone whose activities touch upon the legal protection or safeguarding of ICH. Despite the variety in contributions, the book reflects the authors’ hope that ICH will not only be safeguarded in archives and museums but also in its living form. With insightful analyses and well-researched examples, Professor Kono’s book serves as a helpful tool for those involved in the management of ICH and its relationship with IP, policy, law and practice.

By Brigitte Vezina, WIPO, Global IP Issues Division

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