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Ancient Culture and Contemporary Art: Protecting Australia’s Indigenous Cultural Expression in a Modern IP Framework

Virginia J. Morrison

©2013. Published in Landslide, Vol. 5, No. 3, January/February 2013, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

Australian Aboriginal art is one of the longest continuing art traditions in the world. From ancient rock art to the contemporary Indigenous art movement that has been recognized around the world, it speaks of a connection to land and culture. As Australia has moved gradually toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, there has been a greater interest in the protection of Indigenous art and other forms of cultural expression. With this interest has come a recognition that Indigenous cultural norms are often inconsistent with mainstream intellectual property laws, and legal protection for cultural property is lacking. This issue has been identified in numerous inquiries and reports as well as at the international level. A current inquiry by Australia’s intellectual property regulator is having a fresh look at whether this situation can be redressed.

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