The Colonial Legacy of the International Copyright System
Forthcoming in: Mamadou Diawara & Ute Röschenthaler (eds), Staging the Immaterial. Rights, Style and Performance in Sub-Saharan Africa, Oxford: Sean Kingston
36 Pages Posted: 15 May 2012
Date Written: May 14, 2012
Many writings about the current international intellectual property (IP) system suggest that patents, copyrights and other IP rights have became a global phenomenon effectively only with the 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). However, it was not the TRIPS Agreement that introduced IP rights to the world. There was a global IP system in place already in 1994. Only five out of the thirty least developed country (LDC) members of the WTO had not already signed up to international or regional treaties on various kinds of IP rights before TRIPS. With a focus on copyright, which was earlier and more systematically dispersed via empire than patents and other industrial property rights, I argue in this article that the firm incorporation of the Third World into the global IP system can be attributed to the colonial roots and neo-colonial structures of this body of law. The first section describes how copyright was technically extended to the colonies. The next section explains how and why these colonial transplants continued to be effective after independence. The article concludes with alternative perspectives on TRIPS and the current global IP system when viewed in light of its colonial legacy.
Keywords: intellectual property, copyright, colonialism, developing countries, Berne Convention, TRIPS, WIPO
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