If you have spent your childhood in India, you sure would have grown up listening to stories and tales from epic Indian literatures like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Pancha Tantras, etc. It is fascinating to note that, just like in India, communities all across the world hold close to their heart some literatures, songs, rituals and forms of art, that are passed on from their forefathers. This legacy of creative expressions that are bought to life through traditional and cultural practices are popularly known as Traditional Cultural Expressions (TCE) or Expressions of Folklore.

The need for protection and preservation of TCE arose as a result of its wide commercial exploitation without giving due regard to the indigenous communities who are the actual custodians of these folklores. Developing countries like India, demand strong IP protection for folklores, however, the protection of TCEs under intellectual property law, can pose some challenges. This is because, expressions of folklore, unlike, other forms of IP, fall under the criteria of collective rights, i.e., they belong to a community or a society as whole.

To have an extensive study on this matter and to afford protection of folklores benefiting all the parties involved, WIPO established an international forum named the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) in the year 2000. The main objective of IGC is to develop draft provisions for the protection of TCEs. The committee holds sessions two to three times a year and has till now completed forty sessions.

Meanwhile, many TCE owners rely on Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act in 1999, in India to protect their cultural expressions, especially handlooms and handicrafts, like Aaranmula Kannadi, Kanjeevaram Sarees, Kashmiri Pashmina etc. Likewise, Collective marks can also be made use of for protecting such cultural expressions by giving it a brand image.

However, an accepted model for protection of folklores is yet to be developed at the national as well as international level. Simultaneously, a conscious and mindful approach is to be adopted by the people of the community for keeping their cultural heritage alive.

Renjana R