Comment from Michael F. Brown about statement attributed to him in the Chronicle of Higher Education article about Kelly Bannister.
[After Lila Guterman's article appeared in the Chronicle, I posted the following comment in the Chronicle's online forum attached to the story. I don't dispute any quote attributed to me by this thorough and experienced journalist, but I do insist that statements of mine were plucked from a much longer conversation. What makes debate about indigenous intellectual property so challenging is that the complexity of the issues defies the one-line slogans in which public debate about them tends to take place. --mfb]
The efforts of Kelly Bannister and other scientists to negotiate positive, balanced working relationships with Native communities are long overdue for public attention, and I'm delighted that the Chronicle has published its profile of her important work.
I'd like to correct two mistaken impressions that might arise from the way I was quoted in the article, however. First, I do not oppose--indeed, I strongly support--legal recognition of the intellectual property value of traditional knowledge in the area of biotechnology. If patents are derived from traditional knowledge, then the communities that provided access to that knowledge should be given a place at the table when economic benefits are distributed.
Second, with respect to copyright and authorship, this is what I wrote to the Chronicle reporter in a follow-up email message: “If scholars choose to work with indigenous groups who insist on joint copyright interests in published work, that seems fine to me, especially if the project is truly collaborative. That's a form of joint authorship, plain and simple. If, however, a community insists that it must be the sole copyright holder for a scholar's work, I would find that arrangement unacceptable unless it were for what lawyers call a ‘work for hire’ contract. This principle would not, however, preclude all sorts of compromise agreements, including royalty sharing or even a complete transfer of royalties from author to community ... The key issue is authorship. It makes little sense to substitute one flawed practice--denying the contribution of indigenous peoples to traditional knowledge--with an equally flawed one--denying the scholar's contribution to the documentation of traditional knowledge.”
Michael F. Brown, Williams College