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Property rights protection win the first step

A LONG-TIME WA campaigner for legislation protecting Aboriginal intellectual property rights has welcomed a decision by Danish toymaker Lego to stop using Maori names for a new series of products.

The multinational company, best known for its colourful plastic building blocks, admits it used Maori words as names for its latest Bionicle series.

Perth Aboriginal resource centre Dumbartung Coordinator Robert Eggington said the decision by Lego was a step in the right direction but the issue highlighted the need for legislation to protect Aboriginal intellectual property.

“In Australia, companies have used cultural designs from the Western Desert and that has forced negotiations and agreements and it’s the same when dealing with traditional music like the didjeridu and I know a number of players who have formed agreements for comp-anies to use certain recordings,” Mr Eggington said.

“The majority of advertising and promotion using Aboriginal culture are examples of exploitation of artists from a region who have not been consulted.”

Last week, Lego revealed it planned to develop a code of conduct for cultural expressions of traditional knowledge, as well as confirming that future launches of Bionicle sets will not incorporate names from any original culture.

The Bionicle range included Tohunga (priest), Kanohi (face), Pohatu (stone) and Whenua (earth).

The Maori group that first objected to the use of Maori names, the Ngati Koata Trust, confirmed it had been working with Lego to develop a code of conduct to recognise Maori and other indig-enous interests.

“We feel very positive that commercial and cultural interests can exist in the world marketplace,” a Ngati Koata spokesman said.

Mr Eggington said Dumbartung’s Wall of Shame exhibit shows different examples of the way in which Aboriginal culture was exploited, ranging from issues deal-ing with the impact of eco tourism on sacred and significant sites to the exploitation of Aboriginal art and imagery, styles and symbols.

“I’ve always stated that Western laws don’t cover the rights of knowledge ownership and have left Aboriginal cultural imagery and symbols open for exploitation and appropriation, and I would like to see particular legislation to protect the cultural heritage of our people,” Mr Eggington said.

“There are also issues dealing with stolen cultural material that’s deemed sacred or significant and is now housed in foreign institutions and national institutions, and it also deals with exploitation of knowledge pertaining to bush medicine plants and ochres.”



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