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Indigenous Research Methodologies and Ethics

Intellectual Property Rights vs Customary Laws

Cultural Protocols (aka Customary Laws)

Indigenous peoples have numerous internal customary laws (also known as "cultural protocols") associated with their use of Traditional Knowledge (TK) which falls under Indigenous Knowledge. The social structures that recreate, exercise, and transmit this law through generations, and the protocols that govern these processes, are deeply rooted in the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples, from the land and environment itself. So Indigenous customary laws are inseparable from Indigenous Knowledge. However, Indigenous peoples customary laws have been commonly devalued in comparison to other sources of law (e.g. the common law and international treaties). 

Intellectual Property Rights and the Public Domain

With regards to Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), it has been imposed upon the TK system. Under the IPR system, knowledge and creative ideas that are not “protected” are in the public domain (that is, they are accessible by the public). The idea that TK is intended to eventually enter the public domain is problemtic for Indigenous peoples because customary law dictates that certain aspects of TK are not intended for external access and use in any form. Arguments for a public domain of indigenous knowledge reduce the capacity for indigenous people’s control and decision making over their own knowledge.

Its important when working with Indigneous communities to remember that not all knowledge that they share with the researcher should be in the public domain. This allows trust and self-determination to grow for the community. 

Information comes from Younging's (2016) "The Traditional Knowledge-Intellectual Property Interface"