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How Do Intellectual Property Rights and the G.I. Tag Safeguard Indian Art and Culture?

What are Intellectual Property Rights and the G.I. Tag?

Do you know how artists, inventors, and performers are able to protect their original ideas from being stolen by other people and organisations? In a lawless land, everything would be free to rip off ideas and produce cheap copy after cheap copy until the original lost all value. This actually does happen sometimes, which is why laws surrounding intellectual property came into play. Measures like the G.I. tag safeguard the originality and hard work of artists and visionaries and ensure that innovation does not come at a steep cost to the innovators.

What makes a G.I. tag in India different from a trademark or a patent? To learn more about this, let’s briefly look at what patents, trademarks, and designs are and what role they play in the art and culture sectors.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

Intellectual property rights protect original ideas from being stolen by other individuals or corporations. The idea being that the creator invested some time or money into developing something, and others should not be able to swoop in and steal it. These rights provide creators with exclusive use of their creations and encourage innovation and cultural expression.

IPR encompasses a range of legal protections that safeguard the creations and innovations of individuals and organisations.The different forms of intellectual property rights in India are Trademarks, Designs, Patents, Geographical Indications, Plant varieties and Semiconductor integrated circuit layouts. 

From traditional art forms to cultural practices, India’s rich and diverse heritage is a source of pride and identity for its people. To protect and preserve this ancient cultural heritage, a combination of intellectual property rights (IPR) and Geographical Indication (G.I.) tags plays a crucial role. Let’s delve into how each IPR category plays a role in protecting Indian art and culture.

1. Copyrights: Preserving Artistic Expressions

Intellectual property rights are divided into copyrights and rights related to copyrights. A copyright protects the expression or performance of an idea, for example, a play, film, or sound recording. A copyright basically gives you the exclusive right to conduct certain activities with the copyrighted work. For example, if you gain copyright for a musical play, only you or someone permitted by you will be able to perform it, rewrite it, translate it, etc.

Copyrights protect literary, artistic, and intellectual works, such as music, literature, and paintings. This protection ensures that artists have the exclusive right to use and reproduce their work. In the context of Indian art, this means that traditional art forms, poetry, and literature are shielded from unauthorised reproduction, preserving their authenticity and cultural significance.

As per existing copyright laws, any literary, artistic, and intellectual work of authors and artists is protected by copyright for a minimum of 50 years after their death, without them needing to apply for any copyright or patent. The rights of performers are also protected by copyright laws, which are sometimes called neighbouring laws.

2. Trademarks: Distinguishing Diverse Products

A trademark distinguishes the goods or services of one person from others. The criteria may include the shape of the product, its design, packaging, etc. In other words, a trademark protects your right to use a specific type of symbol, font, shape, colour, etc. if those features distinguish your product. This prevents others from making counterfeit products and masquerading them as yours.

Trademarks differentiate products or services and safeguard the distinctiveness of cultural products. This is particularly important for traditional handcrafted items, textiles, and other cultural artefacts. Trademarks ensure that consumers can identify genuine products from specific regions or communities. This helps in promoting the economic prosperity of local artisans and preserving cultural heritage.

3. Patents: Protecting Innovative Techniques

Patents are crucial when it comes to preserving innovations within Indian art and culture. They encourage artisans to develop and protect unique techniques and practices. For example, the patent system can protect the unique methods used in pottery, jewellery-making, or textile weaving. It thus allows artists to maintain their distinctiveness.

A patent protects a new invention, or in other words, an extremely different or innovative product. For example, you notice that while painting fabric, the best yellow paint in the market is subpar. So you spend a couple months or even years to come up with an alternative. Now, you have created a formula for yellow paint that is vastly innovative in features, formula, and application. All that time you spent adjusting and experimenting to make your product have the perfect qualities might be wasted if another paint company simply uses the ingredients listed on your product and spends a lot of money on R&D so they can imitate your product exactly. That’s where a patent comes in—it protects your product’s identity from being stolen.

4. Geographical Indication (G.I.) Tags

G.I. tag
Madhubani art, a G.I. tagged art form of Mithila, Bihar
(image source: blog.penkraft.in)

Certain products and services become associated with the place of their origin for several reasons. For example, Darjeeling tea is famous because of the weather, the skill of the tea leaf pickers, and the types of tea grown there, all of which lend unique qualities to the product. Darjeeling tea thus has a unique reputation due to its quality, which is extremely difficult to replicate.

G.I. tags are a unique category of IPR that focuses on the origin of products. They are particularly important in preserving and promoting traditional Indian art and culture. A G.I. tag indicates that a product is associated with a specific geographic location and possesses unique qualities, characteristics, or reputation due to its place of origin, preparation, or manufacturing.

A G.I. tag is applicable to agricultural goods, natural and manufactured products, food, and handicrafts that have a certain quality, standard, or reputation that is in some way related to their place of origin, preparation, or manufacturing. The product is either prepared using traditional methods, has particular characteristics, or is of a particular quality or reputation. So the G.I. tag is a name or a sign that is given to a particular product or service originating from a specific geographic location to distinguish it from other products of the same type or product class.

G.I. Tag Regulations and Their Usage

G.I. tag
The G.I. tagged Aipan art of Kumaon, Uttarakhand (image source: itokri.com)

Geographical Indications are covered as a component of intellectual property rights (IPRs) under the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property. At the international level, G.I. tags are governed by the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

In India, Geographical Indications registration is administered by the Geographical Indications of Goods Act, 1999, which came into force on 15th September 2003. The first product in India to be awarded with the G.I. tag was Darjeeling tea in 2004–05.

Here’s how G.I. tags play a role in safeguarding Indian art and culture:

They Offer Legal Protection

G.I. tag
Nirmal toys of Telangana. This geographical indication also covers handicrafts and the Nirmal paintings of the region
(image source: golkondacraftsbanjarahills.com)

G.I. tags offer legal protection to products associated with a particular region. This prevents unauthorised use of the G.I. tag by others and safeguards the authenticity of cultural products. This allows artisans to legally challenge counterfeits and maintain their traditional livelihood.

They Provide Quality Assurance

Consumers can trust the quality and authenticity of products with G.I. tags. These tags guarantee that the product meets specific standards and has unique attributes linked to its place of origin.

They Boost the Local Economy

G.I. tags enhance the demand for products with unique cultural significance. This benefits local artisans and boosts the economy of the region which in turn helps in the preservation and continuation of traditional art forms.

How to apply for a G.I. Tag

In the application for geographical indication, you have to mention how the place of origin affects the product or service and to what extent it influences the class, quality, reputation, characteristics, appearance, etc. of the product. Once awarded, the G.I tag in India is valid for 10 years. It can be renewed for another ten years from the expiry date.

Significance of the G.I. Tag in Indian Art and Culture

The role of G.I. tags in preserving Indian art and culture cannot be overstated. They provide a legal framework to protect the distinctiveness of products tied to specific regions. This ensures that these cultural treasures are not diluted or counterfeited. G.I. tags also facilitate the economic growth of local artisans and communities by enhancing the value of their products in national and international markets.

The Importance of G.I Tags in Safeguarding Indian Culture

Indian art and culture are a testament to the country’s rich heritage and diversity. Intellectual Property Rights, including copyrights, trademarks, and patents, along with Geographical Indication tags, collectively play a significant and pivotal role in safeguarding and promoting Indian art and culture. 

G.I. tags ensure that only registered and authorised individuals are allowed to use the popular product name. These legal mechanisms thus protect the authenticity and uniqueness of Indian folk and tribal art. They ensure that future generations can continue to cherish and celebrate their invaluable heritage.

Interested in learning about the ancient folk and tribal art forms of India and how they are being safeguarded today? Download the Rooftop App from Google Play or the App Store and read our Art Wikis and blogs for more information.

By Melissa D’Mello

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