September 24, 2009

The Rhetoric of Property Law

Johanna Gibson, Queen Mary University of London School of Law, has published "The Lay of the Land: The Geography of Traditional Cultural Expression," in Intellectual Property and Traditional Cultural Expressions in a Digital Environment 182-201 (C. B. Graber & M. Murr-Nenova eds.; Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2008). Here is the abstract.
This paper examines the nature of land or territory as a linking concern in the discussion of intellectual property, traditional knowledge and the digital environment. Fundamentally, intellectual property models are circumscribed by the legal, economic and philosophical western traditions of land and land ownership and the translation of traditional knowledge within intellectual property frameworks imposes a similarly competitive, rivalrous and crowdable imperative upon that subject matter. In mapping traditional knowledge through intellectual property, traditional relationships to land (through the rendering of the knowledge embedded in that land) are similarly translated into competitive western systems, and indeed traditional and indigenous communities have been subjected to the same rationalisation, whereby authenticity is realised and "proven" externally through attachment to the land in what often derives from a colonial construction of Indigenous and traditional interests. This construction is vested in the continuity of connection to place and geographic community which ultimately betrays a self-conscious western construction of cultural resources and knowledge. That is, such knowledge and the relationship to that knowledge is understood only within the context of the institution of western legal paradigms and the legitimated justice of individual property interests. Notably, when it comes to the digital environment, industries based upon intellectual property struggle to chart and define territory by transforming knowledge into “land” as it were. Much has been said about the relationship between intellectual property and personal property, but what is of particular interest to this paper is the way in which an idea is reterritorialised by intellectual property models so that land ownership (at least in a conceptual sense) becomes intriguingly relevant. In examining the role or interference of intellectual property in traditional knowledge protection and indeed interpretation, this paper examines the former not through the expression of ideas as chattels but rather through the way in which ideas and information relate to territories; that is, the relationship between intellectual property frameworks and, not goods (as personal property), but land (as real property).

Download the essay from SSRN here.

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