2019/01/30: The Local Contexts initiative began in 2010 when Kim Christen and I started to think more carefully about how to support Indigenous communities to address the immense and growing problems being experienced with copyright around Indigenous or traditional knowledge. We had both been working with Indigenous peoples, communities and organizations over a long period of time and had increasingly been engaged in a very specific way with the dilemmas of copyright that existed at the intersection of Indigenous collections in archives, libraries and museums. We were able to see more clearly the ways in which copyright has functioned as a key tool for dispossessing Indigenous peoples of their rights as holders, custodians, authorities and owners of their knowledge and culture.
Combining both legal and educational components, Local Contexts has two objectives. Firstly, to support Indigenous decision-making and governance frameworks for determining ownership, access to and culturally appropriate conditions for sharing historical and contemporary collections of Indigenous material and digital culture. Secondly, to trouble existing classificatory, curatorial and display paradigms for museums, libraries and archives that hold extensive Indigenous collections by finding new pathways for Indigenous names, perspectives, rules of circulation and the sharing culture to be included and expressed within public records.
Inspired by Creative Commons, we began trying to address the gap for Indigenous communities and copyright law by thinking about licenses as an option to support Indigenous communities.
Our initial impulse was to craft several new licenses in ways that incorporated local community protocols around the sharing of knowledge. Pretty quickly however we ran into a significant problem: with the majority of photographs, sound recordings, films, manuscripts, language materials that had been amassed and collected about Indigenous peoples, and that were now being digitized, Indigenous peoples were not the copyright holders. Instead, copyright was held by the researchers, missionaries or government officials who had done the documenting or by the institutions where these materials were now held. Or – at the other end of the spectrum, these materials were in the unique space that copyright makes – the public domain. This meant that not only did Indigenous peoples have no control over these materials and their circulatory futures, they also could not apply any licenses – either CC ones or ones that we were developing. This was a problem that we responded to by developing the TK Labels.