Culture as Property: Intellectual Property, Local Norms and Global Rights

77 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2007

See all articles by Olufunmilayo Arewa

Olufunmilayo Arewa

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: April 2007


Intellectual property frameworks today reflect an increasing emphasis on framing knowledge and culture within a property rights paradigm. This tendency is evident in all sides of current debates about global intellectual property frameworks. Intellectual property frameworks have historically reflected accommodation and balance between local and global influences as well as private and public interests. An ethos of propertization strains both balances. The imbalance between the local and global and public and private is exemplified in current treatment of local knowledge under global intellectual property frameworks. This article examines the tensions between local and global norms, legal and otherwise, and private and public interests in today's increasingly global intellectual property frameworks. This article also evaluates the potential pitfalls of viewing culture through a propertization lens given the shared nature of many cultural resources. The treatment of culture as property may also have broad implications for both development and capacity. As is the case in intellectual property discussions more generally, the mechanisms of cultural propertization and propertization discourse can influence behavior and even intensify assertions of rights themselves. This article proposes ways to better balance the public and private and local and global in crafting intellectual property frameworks that reflect local norms, local participation and the needs of varied local contexts.

Keywords: Intellectual Property, Traditional Knowledge, Local Knowledge, International Law, TRIPs, Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Property Rights, Developing Countries, Third World Countries, Local Communities, Cultural Property, Capacity, Legal Framework

JEL Classification: K11, K33, K49

Suggested Citation

Arewa, Olufunmilayo, Culture as Property: Intellectual Property, Local Norms and Global Rights (April 2007). Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 07-13. Available at SSRN: or

Olufunmilayo Arewa (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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