Here's a scary thought; what if museums had to give back all the information they have released regarding Native American culture? You're thinking "But that's impossible! It's already been released, how will I track it down? How will I get all of it? I don't know where it is!"
And that is gossip.
Kidding, but if you get that reference I like you.
Now what if instead of gathering up all those feathers you had to pay Native Americans artists for every instance of infringement perpetrated by museums?
How about if I said that Native Americans may be able to own copyright in their traditional works.
Are you feeling nervous yet?
What if you had to ask a Native artists permission every time you wanted publish an image of an object they created? What if permission had to be granted anytime a third party asked to publish an image of a Native object in your collection?
What if you had to share any profits you made from selling copies of old sound recordings of Native American singers preforming traditional songs?
What if owning a traditional object does not mean you own the copyrights? What if age is not the sole determining factor in term protection limitation?
What if a Native artist could revoke their copyright transfer decades after the transfer was made?
What if publishing information that actively harms the spiritual, emotional, economic, and cultural health of a Native tribe is not considered 'fair use'?
Scared yet? Well you should be. Why? Because all of these things are actually already laws that govern the use and ownership of intellectual property.
Yes, that's right. Shockingly, museums have been misapplying intellectual property laws to Native works for almost a century.
Now, since intellectual property law is a complex and beautifully frustrating beast understanding how these laws apply to traditional works created by Native artists is difficult. I could explain it to you but I don't want to. Do your own research.
All I am simply saying is that museums have been either intentionally or unintentionally depriving Native Americans of their intellectual property rights and economic interests for about a century. This is inline with our other efforts of physical property deprivation, and privacy deprivation, and general respect deprivation. Good for us for being consistent in our subjugation of Native peoples.
Now what if I told you there are already articles being drafted that would provide greater protection for indigenous groups internationally?
If you're interested in learning more you'll have to buy the book. Coming this June. (The book is my Master's Project).
So how do you feel about your ability to apply intellectual property law to Native American material?
"I have doubts."
© 2014 Patricia Lord