|Connie Watts' Hetux Thunderbird at YVR|
Central to the subjects of information policy and copyright when considering the concept of property within indigenous cultures are issues of collective authorship, the ownership of immaterial works (such as songs and dances), and the value of originality. This entry will explore these three issues.
A recent demonstration of the Canadian Copyright Act’s limitations emerged during the 2010 Winter Olympics, here in Vancouver. VANOC purchased specific designs created by Northwest Coast Native artists, altered and licensed these designs, had factories in China produce items using these designs, and then sold the items as "authentic Aboriginal products". This case validates the need for the legal definition of authorship to be expanded within Canadian, and international, intellectual property law. There should be a legal mechanism to reinforce the bonds between indigenous cultures and their visual heritage.
Ownership of the Immaterial
The “identifiable creator” and the “originality” requirements to protect works under Canadian copyright law are often difficult to meet within the context of Aboriginal cultural property. The difficulty with these requirements can be identified when considering the example of mass-produced model totem poles (Spratley, 2007). Most tourist shops in Vancouver carry small totem poles created from black resin and stone powder that are intended to resemble the miniature totem poles that were carved from Haida Gwaii argillite beginning in the mid-1800s. In fact, all of these replicas are based on original argillite sculptures that originate from Haida Gwaii and are now in museum collections throughout North America. Some of these poles carry artist attributions, but many do not. Companies such as North Vancouver’s Panabo Sales take advantage of the fact that most of these sculptures were never signed by artists (no identifiable creator) and that most poles depict near-identical crest figures (similarities that can be deemed unoriginal).
It may be true that First Nations’ conceptions of originality and ownership differ from prevailing views on these topics, but it is also true that third parties should not be profiting due to the Copyright Act’s inability to protect the cultural property of Aboriginal cultures.