Learning From India’s TKDL: Digitization as a Tool to Protect Cultural Property and an Argument for Doing It Yourself

Cite as: 5 GEO. L. TECH. REV. 99 (2021)

Digitization of traditional knowledge (TK) and traditional cultural expressions (TCE) can be a powerful means to many noble ends. For example, archiving herbal medicines or traditional performance art by recording it in writing or video can prevent those cultural pieces from being lost as a result of death of living memory, natural disaster, or conflict.1 Additionally, by digitizing TK and TCE, the communities that create them may be able to combat misappropriation by outsiders. By demonstrating ownership and existence of the TK or TCE in question as “prior art,” or evidence of unoriginality or lack of authorship, communities can deal fatal blows to third-party patent or copyright claims.2 Finally, digitization can increase accessibility to TK and TCE and allow a greater number of people to view and learn from them by removing barriers to enjoyment, such as geographical or financial constraints. Using India’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library as a case study, this Note argues that the legal and moral utility of digitization is greatest when it is a tool wielded by the communities who own and create the TK and TCE being digitized.

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Sherlyn Abdullah

Associate, Seyfarth Shaw LLP

*This Note was selected as the first place winner of the nationwide 2019-2020 Georgetown Law Technology Review Student Writing Competition.