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Copyright guide

This is a companion guide to the RMIT Copyright webpages for staff and students.

About ICIP

What are Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP) rights?

ICIP rights refers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' rights to their heritage and culture. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' heritage is a living heritage and is passed down from generation to generation. Usually particular objects, sites and knowledge pertain to a particular Indigenous group or territory.  

Heritage includes all aspects of cultural practices, traditional knowledge, resources and knowledge systems developed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as part of their Indigenous identity. ICIP rights also cover:  

  • literary, performing and artistic works  
  • languages  
  • types of knowledge, including spiritual knowledge  
  • tangible and intangible cultural property  
  • Indigenous ancestral remains and genetic material  
  • cultural environmental resources  
  • sites of Indigenous significance and  
  • documentation of Indigenous heritage.  

Essentially, ICIP rights are a bundle of rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples which protect the right to:  

  • own and control ICIP 
  • commercialise ICIP in accordance with traditional laws and customary obligations  
  • benefit commercially from the authorised use of ICIP 
  • enjoy full and proper attribution and  
  • protect significant and sacred materials.  

How is ICIP protected in Australia?  

The Australian Copyright Act (1968) does not include specific protections for Indigenous works.  

There is no specific legislation in Australia that recognises ICIP. ICIP may be protected by copyright, trade marks, confidential information, passing off and trade practices law. However, this protection is fragmented and limited.  

For example, copyright can only provide limited protection of ICIP because:  

  • the material form requirement is not always met where the stories and songs have been passed orally from generation to generation  
  • the period of copyright protection is finite and is unable to protect traditional art which has been passed through generations and  
  • copyright is generally granted to the author and does not recognise communal or customary ownership of cultural heritage of Indigenous tribes and clans. 

Adapted from "Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights" National Copyright Unit CC BY 4.0 

Video: Aboriginal Artist Bibi Barba takes on Polish Hotel in Landmark Infringement Case

Aboriginal artist Bibi Barba discovered two of her artworks from her Desert Flowers series were being used by an interior designer in a Polish Hotel without her permission.

Further resources

Book cover attribution

Janke, T. (2022). True tracks: Respecting Indigenous knowledge and culture. NewSouth Publishing. Cover design Debra Billson. All rights reserved. Cover artwork Terri – Butterfly Flowers Dreaming, 2020, by Bibi Barba. © Bibi Barba/Copyright Agency, 2021.