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Memoranda of Understanding and Researcher Contracts: Respecting Ownership, Benefit and Control in Language Documentation

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Title: Memoranda of Understanding and Researcher Contracts: Respecting Ownership, Benefit and Control in Language Documentation
Authors: Czaykowska-Higgins, Ewa
Thom, Brian
Daniels, Deanna Xway'Waat
Urbanczyk, Suzanne C.
Issue Date: 04 Mar 2017
Description: A critical area of ethical concern in Indigenous language documentation projects, especially in collaborative and community-based projects, involves thinking about and agreeing upon who has ownership and control over project outcomes, who benefits from a project, and who determines the answers to these questions (amongst other works by linguists discussing these concerns, see Dobrin & Berson 2011, Dwyer 2006, Newman 2012, Penfield et al 2008, Rice 2006; see also Battiste & Henderson 2000). In this paper, we present an example of how one group of Coast Salish First Nations and one university in British Columbia (Canada) responded to such concerns through the development of 1) a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the communities and the university partner, and 2) accompanying Researcher Contracts. The approach was grounded on the principles that Coast Salish protocols around intangible property must be respected from the outset, and that relationships between community and academic partners in language revitalization need to be framed over the long-term (beyond the project’s funding period). The MoU provided terms of reference for clear systems of communication and decision-making between community and academic partners, with specific mechanisms to listen to and respect the advice of community Elders. Negotiating the MoU enabled the communities and researchers to set priorities and approve research, and establish an informed consent process for if and how language documentation would be made public. The MoU allowed the research partners to address concerns about how conventional intellectual property (ie: copyright, royalties) would be handled, and to lay out principles for how to respect and protect Aboriginal intangible property which are not well covered by conventional IP systems. The MoUs and Researcher Contracts also defined individual researcher responsibilities in documentation and publication, confidentiality, royalties, university's intellectual property rights, and dispute resolution mechanisms. We argue that MoU's and Researcher Contracts are tools for establishing formal mechanisms that respect communities and move beyond privileging universities and university researchers. They can ensure communities' intellectual property is not exploited or misappropriated by outsiders, can protect sacred and/or privately- or collectively-owned songs, or stories, etc., and can prevent non-community members from profiting from community traditions. They can also be used to empower Indigenous governance and self-determination, encourage institutions to change their policies, and overcome limitations of intellectual property rights conventions as these relate to language (e.g., WIPO). As tools of empowerment, they have the potential to contribute to communities' positive functioning and well-being. References Battiste, M. and J. Y. Henderson. 2000. Protecting Indigenous Knowledge and Heritage: A Global Challenge. Saskatoon: Purich Publishing Ltd. Dobrin, L. & J. Berson. 2011. Speakers and language documentation. In Austin, P. & J. Sallabank (eds.) The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages. 187- 211. Cambridge: CUP. Dwyer, A. 2006. Ethics and practicalities of cooperative fieldwork and analysis. In Gippert, J., N.P. Himemelmann, & U. Mosel. Essentials of Language Documentation. 32-66. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter. Newman, P. 2012. Copyright and Other Legal Concerns. In Thieberger, N. The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Fieldwork. Oxford Handbooks Online. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199571888.013.0020 Penfield, S., A. Serratos, B.V. Tucker, A. Flores, G. Harper, J. Hill, Jr., & N. Vasquez. 2008. Community collaborations: Best practices for North American Indigenous Language Documentation. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 191. 187-202. Rice, K. 2006. Ethical issues in Linguistics fieldwork: an overview. Journal of Academic Ethics 4. 123-155. World Intellectual Property Organization. Accessed 26 August 2016.
Appears in Collections:5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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