RI proposes international treaty for traditional heritage

Irawaty Wardany, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
3 October 2007

Indonesia and several other developing countries have proposed the establishment of an international treaty to protect cultural heritage and folklore, says an Indonesian official.

"We had a conference organized by the Foreign Ministry and World Intellectual Property Organization in June, and we agreed to propose an international treaty on cultural heritage and folklore," said Andy Noorsaman Sommeng, director general for intellectual property rights at the Justice and Human Rights Ministry.

He said pushing the proposal through would be difficult because many developed countries opposed the idea.

Many Indonesians are becoming anxious about the protection of their cultural heritage, especially after the Malaysian government used the song Rasa Sayange in its "Truly Asia" tourism campaign.

Rasa Sayange is believed to have originated in Maluku, where it is thought to have been sung for generations by people to express their love for their environment.

Andy, however, said it was difficult for the Indonesian government to claim any right over the song.

"From the side of intellectual property rights, if we can find out who wrote the song and that person wanted his or her rights to be protected, then we could sue Malaysia. If not, the song will remain in the public domain and can be used by anyone," he said.

He said a property right was a personal right that would be protected during the lifetime and 50 years after the death of the creator of a piece of intellectual property. After that the creation enters the public domain.

"But the government has the right to protect its cultural heritage created by anonymous authors, as stipulated in Indonesia's 2002 law on intellectual rights," he said.

He acknowledged that this task was difficult because the government did not have a database on Indonesia's cultural heritage.

Asked if the Malaysian government really had patented batik and angklung, as had been rumored, he said this was not true.

"I have checked in Malaysia and there are no patents for batik or angklung," he said.

He said if there were any patents, they would likely be for any new technology to make batik.

"Patents are about technology," Andy said.

He said to get a patent, a person had to prove their creation was a new invention or innovation and that it was applicable in industry.