Intellectual property rights, a long and winding road

by Agnes Winarti on 2012-11-26

While other countries — Australia with its Aboriginal culture or India with its turmeric-based traditional herbs — have their governments’ actively protect their intellectual property rights (IPR), Indonesia has still shown little concerted effort to protect its cultural heritage.

The government and local administrations, especially in Bali, must start working proactively to create a thorough database of their diverse cultural richness so as to be able to implement real protection for the country’s IPR, experts said in a recent public discussion at Udayana University.

“Since the 80s, we’ve been hosting seminars on the importance of protecting communal IPR, which include diverse Balinese expressions of traditional culture and art forms. Sadly, there has not been any real implementation, even in terms of identification and documentation,” said I Nyoman Arya Thanaya of the Center of Intellectual Property Rights at Udayana University.

He was speaking at a recent public seminar on IPR hosted by the Asia Law Students Association (ALSA) of Udayana University.

Indonesia’s 1982 law on copyright was renewed by law No. 19/2002. However, this copyright law only covers matters of individual IPR, including copyright and industrial property rights such as patents, brands and industrial design, most of which are difficult to legally enforce. Meanwhile, communal IPR, which includes various traditional cultural dances, paintings, crafts and local wisdom, remains an untouched domain.

Arya acknowledged that awareness was still low among all stakeholders, including government officials, academics and even the artists themselves, none of whom really understood the importance of protection for both individual and communal IPR.

Through a recent survey conducted in Gianyar regency’s Celuk village, famous as the island’s hub for silversmiths, the Udayana University ALSA students found that 59 percent of the silversmiths preferred to remain silent if they found their work being plagiarized.

 “There’s a sense of pride among our traditional artists when they find their work being copied because of the strong communal ties and the traditional belief that arts are inherited from ancestors, thus all works are regarded as public property,” said Arya.

In 2009, a special task force was established with the goal of creating a comprehensive database of Balinese IPR, raising awareness and encouraging artists to register their claim to the intellectual rights of their artwork. However, Arya said that the team, which was led by the industry and trade agency, was ineffective due to budget cuts and the difficulty of coordinating with inter-governmental agencies, such as the cultural and education agency, the police and the law and human rights regional office.

A silversmith businessman based in Celuk village, I Made Gede Sutawa, said for the past five years he had been working on creating a database of the decades-old patterns used by Celuk silversmiths, which he compiled in a 500-page book completed in 2011.

“I have submitted the Celuk silver database book to the Gianyar trade and industry agency. For us, the Celuk silversmiths, I believe we don’t need to have individual copyrights for each of our designs because all the Celuk works are the property of our community. What we really do need now is for our work to receive the highest acknowledgement from the trade and industry ministries,” said Sutawa, who understood that bureaucracy may cause it to be many years before the Celuk silversmiths finally got recognition from the government. Thus he is also looking into the possibility of publishing the book.

A government investigator at the Denpasar office of the Law and Human Rights Ministry, Bekti Purwanto, acknowledged that in the case of individual IPR alone, a period of at least 1-2 years study was required before the ministry was finally able to issue a copyright or patent.

There is a long list of fees to register IPR, including Rp 700,000 (US$72.82) to register an industrial design, Rp 400,000 for a copyright and Rp 2.5 million for a brand, while the rights expire after a period of 10 years. Meanwhile, violators of such intellectual property rights may “only” face 1 to 4 years imprisonment or a fine of between Rp 45 million and Rp 300 million.

Adding to the complicated state of IPR, Bekti also pointed out that there had been some cases of counterfeit certification, as well as cases where the plagiarists themselves were the ones proposing and receiving approval for certain IPR. “Due to budget constraints, it’s difficult for government investigators like me to thoroughly investigate such matters,” said Bekti, adding that some cases were solved without proper trials through extra-judicial settlements.

Since 2008, the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) and the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) have included Indonesia among the 12 countries on the Priority Watch List due to its insufficient intellectual property rights protection or enforcement, as reported in the USTR annual report ( Other countries on this list are Algeria, Argentina, Canada, Chile, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, Thailand and Venezuela.

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