The Alicante School of Art and College of Design, a UNAI member institution in Spain, has been conducting a project entitled ‘The Art of Protection’, developed by Professors Francisco Oncina and Isabel Alemany. According to the experts, art and design should not be seen only as identifying elements of cultures, but also as an “engine” of socioeconomic development given their commercial relevance. Considering this, protection of intellectual property must be enforced so artists can benefit from what they do and continue to make their art.

A booklet of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a specialized agency of the United Nations, explains that the “creativity, skill and talent of literary and artistic creators is also their main means of creating wealth and jobs. By compensating and rewarding creators’ effort and creativity, copyright acts as an incentive to continue to create new work. By striking the right balance between the interests of creators and the wider public interest, copyright law aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish.”

As clearly pointed out in an article published by the United Nations Development Programme, “greater effort needs to be devoted to protecting intellectual property rights. Failing to properly reward creators is holding back growth. Legal frameworks that protect the rights of creators and secure fair remuneration for them is key”. Precisely, ‘The Art of Protection’ initiative, aims at highlighting the importance of protecting the intellectual property of creators.

The project seeks to provide assistance to artists and designers, through awareness and training, so they can sustain themselves with their creative work, while helping to develop small businesses in the creative industry. Sustainable growth and decent work are related to the respect for the work of others. When intellectual property rights are ignored, artists and designers might perceive that their own work does not have the recognition it deserves and as a result, many of them develop or find other livelihoods.

“We work on advancing fundamental rights since we are all responsible for their defense and promotion,” said the scholars involved in this project. The initiative builds on the comprehensive analysis about the actual enforcement and implementation of intellectual property laws in different parts of the world. In partnership with several stakeholders, Nepal was the first country in which the project was carried out in 2017, followed by Senegal in 2019 and Uzbekistan is planned for this year.

The project includes face-to-face and interactive workshops tailored to creative professionals like craftsmen, jewelers, painters, musicians and students, covering a wide range of issues including author rights, trademarks, brands, designs and many other topics related to intellectual property. The series of workshops include debates, surveys about actual knowledge on intellectual property, and the sharing of experiences and best practices, among other activities.

“As seen in the countries where the project has been implemented so far, there is an evident lack of trust in the system related to intellectual property rights, due to what is perceived as a slow or perhaps minimal response from the authorities to protect those rights when it comes to artists and creative workers in general,” mentioned Professors Oncina and Alemany. This, they warned, can severely limit the possibilities of further developing a structured, protected and flourishing work environment for creative and artisanal laborers.

Nevertheless, based on the interaction with the stakeholders at the regional, national and local levels, the scholars noted “a significant increase in the level of awareness regarding this important and sensitive issue, even among governments officials and experts working on this matter.” They highlighted that many of those who have participated in the workshops were not aware of what to do when their creative work was plagiarized or falsified, and its economic implications.

One of the current violations of intellectual property rights affecting creative professionals, takes place in the fashion industry. “For many Indigenous peoples and local communities, making traditional clothes is a source of income; as such, cultural appropriation can wield a significant economic blow, undercutting the ability of communities to earn a living by displacing the sale of authentic products,” noticed Brigitte Vézina, an intellectual property and cultural heritage law consultant, in an article published in the WIPO Magazine.

The experts from the Alicante School of Art and College of Design, considered that the activities carried out within the framework of this project, can boost the idea that the protection of intellectual property in creative industries serves as a stimulus for the creation of wealth in the developing countries. "We must all realize that behind each design a great and hard work is hidden," they added.

To learn more about protecting the intellectual property of artists and creatives, check out these resources from WIPO: Marketing Crafts and Visual Arts: The Role of Intellectual Property and Intellectual Property and Traditional Handicrafts.