Whose story is it? Consider story sovereignty.

As artists, the world around us is full of inspiration and our relationships with people and the environment spark creativity. But is it all ok for me to use? As we create, we need to consider story sovereignty - who has the mana to tell the story?

We are compelled to tell stories through our music, art and words, because we are the current cultural guardians, pioneers and agitators. Some stories beg us to communicate them. Others we want to tell because they are important. As we create, we need to consider story sovereignty - who has the mana to tell the story?

We are living in an era where the recognition of diversity is beautifully strong, particularly in terms of cultural aspects, such as literary, musical and artistic works. For traditional people's groups, this includes clothing, artifacts, methods of working, shapes, symbols, colors, songs, dance, legends, stories, histories, medicinal knowledge, words and more. For newer cultural groups, such as the LGBTQ community, symbols, words and vocabulary are a new body of work in development that grows daily. Identity is a huge part of who we are as individuals and also as communities.

Some things might not fall under the protection afforded by Copyright law, especially in terms of indigenous knowledge, which tends to be collective knowledge, where an identifiable creator cannot be established, and the knowledge is often passed down through generations, so even if an originator could be established, the knowledge might well be out of copyright today. When a work does fit the Copyright Act framework, it is protected? But where it might be unclear, ask yourself - Do you have Story Sovereignty – is it your story to tell?

The encouraging thing is that all over the world, work is being done to recognise and uphold protections and respect for traditional knowledge. Importantly, in Aotearoa New Zealand, we have Te Tiriti, particularly Article 2, which pertains to te tino rangatiratanga o te Iwi Māori over taonga, and we have a responsibility to not appropriate things that aren't ours or to diminish and dilute the mana of these elements.

Before you dive deep into a work, ask yourself if you have the authority, the responsibility, and the permission to use these elements, or tell this story. How are you treating them? Does your work contain cultural references that don’t belong to you; and do you need to connect with the guardians of that culture, the kaitiaki, to have a more complete understanding, or to get clearance to use those things?

In the absence of protection of legal Copyright, we, as creatives, have the responsibility to protect the taonga of other people, even as we are inspired by it. We have Story Sovereignty over our own stories and creativity; let’s respect that for others too.

Are you interested in finding out how copyright applies to you?

We're offering FREE, one hour Creative Rights for Creative People workshops throughout 2022. Find out more here >>

Written by Karen Workman, Kaiwhakahaere Whakapa | Creative Rights Educator

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