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The Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) Project is an international, multidisciplinary research project examining intellectual property (IP)-related issues that are emerging within the realm of heritage, especially those affecting Indigenous peoples. These include complex and often difficult questions about who has rights to and responsibilities relating to use of and benefits from tangible and intangible cultural heritage, including artifacts, archaeological sites, and associated traditional knowledge (e.g., images, songs, stories) and values (Nicholas and Bannister 2004). To address these issues, IPinCH was designed to assist scholars, institutions, descendant communities, policymakers, and other stakeholders in negotiating equitable, appropriate, and successful research policies and practices involving cultural heritage, including archaeology. The project is also generating insights on the nature of knowledge, extending understanding of IP, and contributing to scholarly discussions of culture-based rights claims.

IPinCH is a collaboration among scholars, researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and Indigenous groups from across the globe. Scholars and researchers from diverse fields—including anthropology, archaeology, ethics, ethnobiology, indigenous studies, heritage management, information management, law, and museum studies—work with professional and community practitioners and policy makers from agencies and institutions operating at local, national, and international levels. A critical aspect of the project is the involvement of Indigenous partners and organizations from Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Botswana, Japan, and Kyrgyzstan. The project is based at Simon Fraser University (Canada), with George Nicholas as project director.

The conception of IPinCH emerged from discussions in the early 2000s between archaeologist Nicholas, cultural anthropologist Julie Hollowell, and ethnobiologist Kelly Bannister, and was influenced by Michael Brown’s seminal article “Can Culture Be Copyrighted” (1998), and by Catherine Bell’s Project for the Repatriation of First Nation Heritage in Canada (2000-2009) (Bell and Napoleon 2008; Bell and Paterson 2009), as well as by conversations with colleagues who were encountering intangible heritage-related issues in their work. A 7-year grant was awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to support the project from 2008 to 2015 as part of its Major Collaborative Research Initiative program.