Protecting Indigenous Knowledge in Canada

Last month the Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA-FCAB) issued a position statement on the treatment of indigenous knowledge in Canada’s Copyright Act. This three page position paper was prepared by the Indigenous Knowledge Protection Working Group operating under the CFLA-FCAB Indigenous Matters Committee. It provides background information, an analysis and a recommendation.

The issue, as framed in this paper, is as follows:

“Canada’s Copyright Act does not protect Indigenous knowledge, which may be found in published works as a result of research or appropriation. In Canadian law, the author of a published work holds the legal copyright to that knowledge or cultural expression, while the Indigenous peoples from whom the knowledge originated have lost their ownership rights.”

While the author of published research technically holds the “legal” copyright to the knowledge or cultural expression that has been described in the research Indigenous peoples see the real owners as the “people from where the knowledge originated.”

The analysis section draws on last year’s CFLA-FCAB Truth and Reconciliation Committee Report noting in particular recommendation number 8 which reads in part:

“… the implementation of Indigenous Knowledge Protection protocols and agreements with local and other Indigenous groups who have holdings in libraries, archives and/or cultural memory institutions to respect the Indigenous cultural concept of copyright with regard to Indigenous history or heritage, which is often located in but not limited to oral traditions, songs, dance, storytelling, anecdotes, place names, hereditary names and other forms of Indigenous knowledges.”

This recommendation includes advocating for the “protection of Indigenous knowledges and languages [including] traditional knowledge” which is outlined by the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore under the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

CFLA-FCAB also calls upon Library and Archives Canada to implement number 69 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action by “fully implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Updated Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity (2005).”

The position paper concludes with this recommendation:

CFLA-FCAB recommends that the Copyright Act respect, affirm and recognize Indigenous peoples ownership of their traditional and living respective Indigenous knowledge.


  1. Reminds one of issues related to Basmati rice and turmeric and bitter neem and similar products being wantonly appropriated from the public domain – followed by attempts to monetise the same using IP laws.

    Hence, support the position taken here vis a vis Indigenous peoples ownership and the injustice in letting appropriators to monetise those rights.

  2. Francois Blanchard

    I think that copyright does not protect knowledge… Does an exception to copyright could protect « traditionnal cultural expression » ?
    Can someone claim originality , and authorship, in a « traditionnal cultural expression »?