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The “Informatics” of Cultural Heritage

Eric Kansa, who has new job (congrats!), recently posted this article to iCommons about the possibilities and limitations of open access/creative commons models for indigenous communities. After discussing the benefits of openness to indigenous communities, as well as some examples of successful online projects, he discusses the limitations of existing legal frameworks to protect open content on the web:

While openness is empowering we need to remember that participation in open, collaborative systems should be a matter of choice and not compulsion. Few advocates of the commons would argue that it is ethical to broadcast confidential medical records or other personal secrets without the consent of people who are well informed of the risks of such exposure. Putting an “Attribution” licence on such content won’t make it any more ethical. In the same way, members of the global Commons need to recognise that ideas of privacy and secrecy vary widely, and indigenous ideas of what’s sacred, private, shareable, or secret vary tremendously. While Creative Commons licences can be a powerful tool for indigenous cultural expression, there are some cases where Creative Commons licence choices map poorly to local needs (Kansa et al 2005). To fill these gaps, other, non-standard, and incompatible licences may emerge as a result. Many elements of indigenous cultural heritage will probably never be neatly and cleanly compatible with global conceptualisations of “free culture” operating on a bedrock of compatible open licences. Much cross-cultural communication will likely take place in a necessarily “messy public sphere of contest, debate, and protest” (quoting Hayden 2003:46).

Related posts on Savage Minds: Libraries and Indigenous Knowledge, Languages as Intellectual Property, Indigenous Cultural/Intellectual Property News RSS Feed


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P. Kerim Friedman is an associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures at National Dong Hwa University, in Taiwan, where he teaches linguistic and visual anthropology. He is co-director of the film Please Don't Beat Me, Sir!, winner of the 2011 Jean Rouch Award from the Society of Visual Anthropology. Follow Kerim on Twitter.

One thought on “The “Informatics” of Cultural Heritage


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    Jason Baird Jackson says:

    I hope that the issues raised in this post can be taken up more fully when time allows. Those concerned with this line of discussion will find much in the work of Kim Christen, who has probably not yet commented here herself because she is, I think, at work right now in an Aboriginal Australian community finalizing a smart digital community archive project that relates closely to these issues. She has written several sophisticated articles that raise points along these line. The quickest way to get to these papers, websites, etc. is her weblog Long Road.

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