Protecting cultural IP

Indonesia worries about foreign appropriation of its cultural assets. A longstanding dispute with Malaysia over traditional batik designs, as well as songs and dances which both countries claim as their own is an example. Another is Toraja Coffee, a coffee from Sulawesi, but the name was appropriated into a Japanese brand some years ago.  See here for more.

Now Indonesia has decided to start a catalogue of its cultural assets to prevent IPR infringements by other countries. The Tourism Ministry and Indonesian National Archives issued a statement announcing the step last week. Indonesian National Archives Chairman Mustari Irawan said "We don't want other countries to claim our tourism assets, so we need to keep a complete catalogue." The intention is for the catalogue to capture a wide range of Indonesia's cultural assets. Some will be tourism focused, others driven by IP ownership.

Of course one of the reasons Malaysia and Indonesia share similar cultural traditions is that the two were for hundreds of years part of the same, but largely forgotten state, the Sriwijaya kingdom which dominated SE Asia a thousand years ago. So in one sense modern national legal barriers create disputes over what should be commonly owned concepts. The Japanese use of Toraja has been equally sensitive partly because it is alleged that Japanese traders and farming technology helped rebuild the failing Toraja coffee industry. "A well-kept and well-organized catalogue will prevent misuse of the country's assets," Mustari said reflecting the modern nationalistic approach.

Indonesia does need to do more to protect its diverse cultural heritage, as a huge multi ethnic archipelago. The register won't technically stop others from trying to capitalize on these assets. The real solution is for local groups to commercialize themselves, which creates the value and thus, IP creation, ownership and protection.