Partial Enclosures: Copyright, Creativity, and Traditional Cultural Expressions in Southeast Asia


ACLS Fellowship Program




The global expansion of copyright law threatens conventional legal assumptions about individual originality and exclusive property rights, as well as common conceptions of static and homogenous tradition. Based on long-term fieldwork in Indonesia, this project investigates property law and custom as alternate rubrics that guide artists in Southeast Asia. Whereas copyright law focuses on original product, commercial productivity, and ownership rights, traditional artists focus on expressive or ritual process, community continuity, and social relationships. Indonesia’s sui generis copyright provisions, which award the state copyright to traditional cultural expressions, clearly conflict with existing approaches. Indigenous producers who create drama, music, dance, carving, and textiles assert personal authority and expertise, yet acknowledge collaborative contributions and ancestral traditions. Indonesian artists’ frequent refusal of authorship and proprietary claims to shared cultural knowledge prompts new analyses of how creativity and customary arts commons can work within, and beyond, the framework of copyright law.