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Celebrating local stewardship in a global market: community heritage, intellectual property protection and sustainable development in India

Celebrating local stewardship in a global market: community heritage, intellectual property protection and sustainable development in India


British Academy



PI and Project Team Members

Professor Charlotte Waelde


Ananya Bhattacharya (co-applicant)

Duration of project


Project Overview

Intangible cultural heritage (ICH) practices, such as craft, dance, musical performance, storytelling, and visual arts, give communities a sense of identity and belonging. The sale of products created by ICH practice can also create jobs and income. However, many communities in developing countries like India experience significant difficulty preventing the appropriation of their heritage by others, for example through mechanisation of production methods. Conventional intellectual property (IP) rights, such as copyright and design protection, offer limited protection to the authors of original creations. These IP tools cannot easily be used to protect cultural expressions whose authors are unknown, and which have been passed down through the generations, changing and adapting to new contexts. This project engages with three Indian cases to investigate how developing ‘heritage-sensitive’ marketing and intellectual property protection strategies can give communities greater control over the commercialisation of their heritage to strengthen competitiveness while contributing to its safeguarding and on-going viability.

Impact statement

People living in poverty in developing countries and their business: The research and collaboration-building activities are specifically focused on empowering ICH communities living in a lower middle income country (India). The new knowledge generated will provide opportunities for ICH businesses locally and internationally.

Local, national and international development agencies and policy- and decisionmakers: High quality co-created evidence about how ICH communities can be empowered in relation to their ICH in the local and global marketplace is needed to inform policy and decision makers across IP, heritage, development and community sectors at local, national and international levels.

Public sector: Research, collaboration and capacity building activities will be conducted in a way that exploits every opportunity to support local research activities

Third sector and Civil Society Organisations: We have involved an NGO and community representatives in the bid development and will continue to co-design and co-create the project throughout. This maximises the chances of new knowledge about heritage sensitive IP and marketing strategies being taken up in the community by individuals and the organisations established to assist them.

  • The project will form an interdisciplinary partnership between experts from Europe, a well-established Indian NGO and three ICH communities in West Bengal, India to assess the effectiveness of existing strategies for commercialising

    intangible cultural heritage (ICH) products based on musical performance, dance, painting and storytelling (Baul, Chau and Patachitra). The project will co-create heritage-sensitive intellectual property (IP) and marketing strategies (HIPAMS) appropriate to each community to help them respond to increased appropriation of their heritage by third parties. The project aims thereby to contribute to the sustainable development goals of Agenda 2030 by helping to build sustainable communities, protect and safeguard cultural heritage, enhance wellbeing, address income inequalities, promote economic empowerment of marginalised groups, and reduce poverty.

    The project is well-allied with the Sustainable Development Programme aims. In seeking to improve the ability of ICH communities to increase demand for their ICH products or justify an increased price for them, the project closely relates to the ‘sustainable growth’ aims. The co-creation of strategies with the communities that sustain and safeguard their ICH skills and knowledge relates to the ‘reducing poverty and inequality’ aims of the Programme.

    The project is relevant to both the Heritage and Dignity sub-themes of the Programme. Many heritage projects focus on retaining the authenticity of monuments, buildings and physical objects through conservation of fabric and its use; for intangible heritage, the objective of safeguarding it is to retain its meaning and value to the communities that use, recreate and perform it, even as it changes over time. For artists, ICH is often commercially important, and yet heritage planning for safeguarding typically ignores commercial imperatives. Poorer communities in developing countries are often marginalised both culturally and economically at a national level, or globally through histories of colonisation and under investment. They are particularly vulnerable to cultural appropriation and misrepresentation. The project proposes to foster sustainable socio-economic development by empowering ICH communities to represent and leverage their ICH in the marketplace in ways that they choose, while retaining the heritage value of that ICH to these communities. Maintaining control over the exploitation of their ICH promotes a sense of dignity and identity by communities.

    • Project website and social media posts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook;
    • Report reviewing the prior work of ContactBase with three communities (Baul, Chau and Patachitra) in Gorbhanga, Balarampur and Pingla;
    • Recorded audio-visual material from each of the ICH communities;
    • Co-created heritage-sensitive intellectual property (IP) marketing and social media strategies (HIPAMS) appropriate to Baul, Chau and Patachitra communities in Gorbhanga, Balarampur and Pingla respectively;
    • Report on the initial effects of HIPAMS implementation on sustainable development for those communities, and the safeguarding of their ICH;
    • Three case studies (Baul, Chau and Patachitra) and five additional comparative case studies of ICH and IP strategies from different regions of the world for use in academic articles, workshops and policy briefs;
    • Two refereed academic articles on the relationship between IP protection, ICH safeguarding and sustainable development;
    • Co-created workshop materials for use in developing countries with communities seeking to develop HIPAMS for their own ICH;
    • Two policy briefs, one for policymaking on heritage and sustainable development, and the other on ICH and IP strategies;
    • A final conference in India to disseminate research findings, showcase work done in ICH communities and raise awareness among policymakers;
    • Information packs for schools about Baul, Chau and Patachitra and how to safeguard them through HIPAMS;
    • Meetings with ICH and IP policymakers in India facilitated by ContactBase to highlight and disseminate insights documented in the policy briefs.

Image: Binod Singh Mura

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