SECURING CULTURAL INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS FOR THE OMA PEOPLE OF NANAM VILLAGE IN LAOS

The Facts of the Oma case 

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In April 2019 the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre in Laos (TAEC) discovered that the Italian fashion company Max Mara was selling clothing decorated with patterns that looked identical to the traditional embroidery and appliqué designs of the Oma people.

The Oma are an ethnic minority group of about 2,800 people living northern Laos, recognised in the region for their hand-spun, indigo-dyed clothing decorated with vibrant red embroidery and appliqué.

 

Unlike the authentic Oma designs, the Max Mara replica patterns were printed on the fabric, not hand-embroidered or hand-sewn.

This work supports the Oma to gain the rightful recognition of their custodianship of their identity designs and ensure that use of their cultural intellectual property does not happen without the consent of the Community and without compensation.

Read more about the Oma Case and Max Mara's response to the design plagiarism allegations in the White Paper Report Documenting Traditional Cultural Expressions: Building a Model for Legal Protection Against Misappropriation and Misuse with the Oma Ethnic Group of Laos (Boța-Moisin and Gujadhur, 2021). 

In May 2019 TAEC became a member of the Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative® (CIPRI) and since then, TAEC has partnered with CIPRI and have been awarded a Voice Sudden Opportunity Grant to support the Oma in documenting their traditional motifs and to raise awareness among other artisan groups, creating educational videos, and developing a model to defend cultural intellectual property rights®

 

The Project "Securing Cultural Intellectual Property Rights for the Oma of Laos - Traditional Design Digital Library" was funded by Voice under the Laos Sudden Opportunity Grant – V-19100-LA-SO and advocates for the recognition of collective rights for custodians and transmitters of TK and TCEs, referred to as cultural intellectual property rights®.

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The goal of this collaborative work is to ensure the Oma ethnic group has control of their heritage, is part of discussions and negotiations, is credited for their textile designs, and can benefit from the use of their designs. 

Our work is guided by the following principles: 

FREE PRIOR INFORMED CONSENT

INVOLVEMENT IN DECISION MAKING 

COMMUNITY CONTROL OVER THEIR TK AND TCEs

REPRESENTATIVES OF THE OMA OF LAOS AT THE LAO HANDICRAFT FESTIVAL 2020. PHOTO CREDITS: TAEC LAOS

THE LEGAL STRATEGY

The Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative® developed and coordinated the legal strategy and cultural sustainability communication for the Project.

Given the lack of adequate international legal protection instruments against misuse and misappropriation of TK and TCEs, and the lack of tools, resources, and easy access to professional legal support for communities to respond in such cases, we proposed a model based on digital documentation of TK and TCEs with the aim of developing a sui-generis legal protection system in Laos (with potential applicability worldwide). 

Digitally documenting collections of data in the form of databases can be an effective tool for Indigenous people, ethnic groups, and local communities to protect and promote their TK and TCEs, and be in control of how their knowledge is accessed, used, and commercialised.

OMA TRADITIONAL TEXTILE DESIGN DATABASE©

The Oma Traditional Textile Design Database© is a collection within the meaning of Article 2(5) of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and is copyright protected. A Copyright notification was submitted to the Department of Intellectual Property, Ministry of Commerce and Industry in Lao PDR on 17th May 2021.

The information it contains is owned by the Oma of Nanam Village, and was created with the support of the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre and Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative®.

The database features six main sections: the Homepage, People, Textiles, Motifs, Techniques, and Rights. Only the Homepage and the Rights Page are publicly accessible. Access to the other sections (People, Textiles, Motifs, Techniques) is password protected and requires log-in credentials. This is in order to protect the cultural intellectual property of the Oma and to ensure access is controlled by the Oma and their legal representatives.

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The Oma Traditional Textile Design Database© can be accessed at: https://oma.traditionaldesigns.la

Read more about the Oma Traditional Textile Design Database©, how it works, and how it can help fashion companies to to developing fair and equitable collaborations with the Oma people in the White Paper Report Documenting Traditional Cultural Expressions: Building a Model for Legal Protection Against Misappropriation and Misuse with the Oma Ethnic Group of Laos (Boța-Moisin and Gujadhur, 2021). 

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK 

The Oma Traditional Textile Design Database© is designed as a regulated platform through which the Oma can grant access to particular TCEs and associated knowledge to third-party users under certain conditions, on the basis of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and fair access and benefit sharing (ABS) mechanisms.

The Database is designed on the Framework of The 3Cs’ Rule: Consent. Credit. Compensation© – an extra-legal tool developed by The Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative® to guide best practices for drawing inspiration from cultural heritage and engaging in culturally sustainable collaborations with Indigenous Peoples, local communities, tribes, and ethnic groups.

 

The 3Cs stand for:

● Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the craftsperson, ethnic group, Indigenous or local community

● Attribution to the source community whose TK or TCEs are used (due Credit)

● Monetary or non-monetary Compensation or sharing of benefits resulting from the commercialisation of the derived work

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COMMUNITY CONSULTATIONS PART OF THE FREE, PRIOR AND INFORMED CONSENT PROCESS (FPIC). PHOTO CREDITS: TAEC 

A SUI-GENERIS SYSTEm IN LAOS

The model developed with the Oma can be a first step in developing a sui-generis system for protecting the TCEs and associated TK in Laos. A sui-generis system refers to the development of specialized measures or laws aimed exclusively at addressing the characteristics of this specific subject matter (WIPO, 2013). If adopted by law in the national legal system, Lao PDR would be the first ASEAN member state that develops positive protection for TK and TCEs.

TOOLs for artisans and ADVOCATES

Part of the Project, an extensive resource page was developed by the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre in partnership with Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative®. It contains information on key concepts, frequently asked questions, video materials documenting the project, and Lao language information. The resource page is structured in such a way to facilitate access to this relevant information to a wide range of beneficiaries: artisans, advocates and advocacy groups, educators, researchers, public servants etc. 

Access the TAEC resource page here: https://www.taeclaos.org/oma/

And sign-up for the TAEC Newsletter to get updates on TAEC's diverse activities and advocacy work on the rights of artisans and ethnic groups in Laos: https://www.taeclaos.org/newsletters/

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THE TAEC TEAM IN NANAM VILLAGE WITH THE OMA COMMUNITY IN JANUARY 2020. PHOTO CREDITS: TAEC 

VIDEO MATERIALS AND OTHER RESOURCES

IN THE PRESS

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THE OMA OF LAOS AND TAEC LAOS AT THE LAO HANDICRAFT FESTIVAL 2020. PHOTO CREDITS: TAEC