Copyrights and image copyrights in Brazil * Introduction

The increase in the use of the image and cultural assets of indigenous communities is a highly visible fact in contemporary Brazil. (Just think of the number of times that images of indigenous peoples appear in books, films, TV publicity, etc.) As a result, among indigenous communities and their organizations, a new series of potential conflicts is arising for which solutions must be found. Writing on this topic is Ana Valéria Araújo (ISA Program on Environmental Rights – Programa Direito Socioambiental – ISA):

Two different questions

Image rights and copyrights are quite different questions and should be analyzed separately, although many times, in practice, they are dealt with together and seem to refer to one question alone. In the first place image rights is a right that affects persons and is covered in the field of constitutional rights. On the other hand, copyrights are a branch of civil rights and protect the rights of persons, when referring to intellectual works and the rights to these works.

It is clear that the Federal Constitution provides the general basis for all these rights. In Article 5, which deals with individual and collective rights and duties, the Constitution guarantees to all persons the inviolability of their image and the right to receive indemnity for damages that occur to any violation. As a result one cannot use the image of anyone, even indigenous peoples for any means or for any purpose without their due authorization and respective compensation. The image of the indigenous peoples, their communities and peoples is their property right, their patrimony to be protected and respected by all.

Regarding the copyrights of indigenous peoples, Article 231 of the Federal Constitution of 1988 recognizes the social organization, customs, languages, beliefs, indigenous traditions and collective character of these communities, and provides specific guarantees to all these assets–including their cultural assets. Furthermore, the Constitution expressly recognizes the existence of cultural manifestations of indigenous peoples that constitute their cultural heritage and patrimony, which is widely protected in the section dedicated to cultural assets and to culture, whereby the Brazilian government is obliged to protect them.

Aside from the Federal Constitution, federal and state laws protecting cultural assets in general may also be applied in concrete cases referring to the indigenous cultural heritage, property and patrimony. It should be mentioned, furthermore, that the Statute of the Indian, Law 6.001/73, discusses these themes, ensuring generically the respect of the cultural heritage, property and patrimony of the indigenous communities, The Statute classifies as criminal acts ceertain measures which violate their image, or their members and the expressions of their culture.

Aside from the aforementioned items, the truth is that, despite all this legislation, the image of the indigenous communities and the assets and properties that constitute the expression of their cultures (chants, drawings, paintings, myths, etc.) are frequently used in an improper and inadequate manner. The frequency in which these images and cultural assets of the indigenous communities are used create a complex question , and a new series of questions is raised.

Brazilian copyright laws

This right regulates the protection of intellectual works, encompassing all the creations of the spirit, expressed by any means, in a tangible or intangible form. In other words, it includes literary texts, artistic or scientific texts, music, photographs, drawings, paintings, engravings, sculptures and many other items, listed in Article 7 9.610, of February 19, 1998, which regulates the topic. Copyright law is eminently centered on the idea of individual production. All production is based on the idea that there is an author, an individual (except in exceptional cases, corporate entities), responsible directly and exclusively for the creation of a specific artistic, scientific or literary work. One must admit, obviously, the co authorship and the existence of collective works, but these are nothing more than the sum of individual creations that are integrated together in an autonomous work.

This form of protection, however, does not incorporate the specific characteristic of indigenous cultural production, which for the most part, is based on collective cooperation. Individual production generally speaking, cannot be singled out.

Let’s take for example the body art of the Xikrin Indians: The anthropologist Isabelle Giannini clarifies that “the Xikrin painting, which is painted on the human body, possesses a social and magical-religious function; it is the correct manner in which an individual of the community is presented in daily life and in periods of rituals or retreats. The painting is a highly standardized graphic tradition and reflects the graphic cultural identity of that community and cannot be confused with any other. It has well defined standards and motives, culturally recognized by all the members of the community and is understood as a system of communication.

“The rigid standards, whose origins for these communities, date back to mythic times, were, are and will be transmitted from generation to generation in a form that is collective, since it is a constant resource for reaffirming an idea and an ideal. For the Xikrin commnity, body painting is an attribute of human nature itself. It is a means of communicaiton, classification and an extremely elaborate graphic representation highly valued by the indigenous community.”

The graphic art of the Xikrin, like so many other forms of expression of the indigenous peoples, was created by a collective group, and should be recognized as such. It does not deal with the sum of individual authorships or creations or co-authorships or co -creators, but of an activity that has the characeristic of a system of visual communication, which confers to this art specific functions of the commuonity life of this society. In this manner, the protection of the copyright should be made collectively; the right concerns the whole community and each individual in particular as a member of that indigenous community. It is a right that cannot be divided and exists due to the fact that the indigenous person belongs to that community.

Collective copyright

In an effort to protect the works of a collective copyright, the indigenous communities encounter serious problems in adapting the established mechanisms in prevailing legislation to their own specific standards. For example, the author of an intellectual work, registers his creation or invention, according to its nature, at the National Library of the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, at the Instituto Nacional do Cinema and at the Conselho Federal de Engenharia, Arquitetura e Agronomia. The registration is obviously not conditioned to obtaining legal protection, but it ensures the right. But the attempts made to this date in registering indigenous works with one of these institutions is blocked by the problem of collective authorship. This demonstrates that the system is not structured to recognize and protect these collective works of indigenous communities.

In order to solve these problems and guarantee the effective protection of the indigenous cultural properties and assets, the then president of the National Foundation of the Indian – Fundação Nacional do Índio (Funai), Carlos Frederico Marés, created the registration of the indigenous cultural properties/ patrimony, under the responsibility of the Museu do Índio. The new mechanism should facilitate the registration of the cultural assets or properties which are an integral part of the indigenous peoples’ patrimony. The indigenous peoples, their communities, organizations and the indigenous peoples themselves, when dealing with individual production of their own community, , may also request this registration, as may other interested parties. Whether or not they are registered, the copyrights and author rights of the indigenous peoples have to date been settled on a case by case basis, in private agreements, in which the collective authorship of the works are recognized and the obligations are established for the transfer or ceding of the use of the authors’rights. The right of image of the indigenous peoples has also been the object of contracts which guarantee them protection and equitable compensation.

The premise is that these people, the indigenous communities as a collective group and the indigenous person as an individual, possess permanent and exclusive usufruct rights to their lands and to dispose of their works and creations of their spirit, even if transmitted by oral tradition, regardless of their temporal origin. This being the case, the use of any works and indigenous creations by third parties, with or without profit motives, must be preceded by prior and express authorization of the people or indigenous community in question. In other words, it is necessary to obtain authorization in writing of the authors, to use the material and to make a commitment to pay or offer some other form or compensation that has been agreed upon by the related indigenous community.

It may happen that the author of the work in question is considered an individual, rather than a group. In this case it is possible to obtain the authorization for its use from the inventor or developer. In dealing with collective authorship the correct procedure would be to obtain an authorization of the representative of the community, according to its uses, customs and traditions. However, there are cases where a definition is far more complex, where the authorship of a specific work seems to be shared by more than one indigenous community. This is the case, for example of some myths dances and rituals. In any case, however, the authorization obtained must be as specific as possible, defining the details and the mode in which the object or cultural expression contracted is used for a specific purpose.

The payment or other forms of compensation must be agreed upon with the indigenous communities themselves and established in an instrument, which authorizes this operation or transaction. There is no percentage or parameter established in prevailing legislation, however. In dealing, for example, with the ceding of copyrights on designs or illustrations to be included in a publication, it is possible to establish a fixed amount, a percentage of the amount of the sale of the publication, or both. In an ideal situation the amount would at least be compatible with market practice for non-indigenous communities, considering the added cultural value characteristic of the situation in question. In cases where works or creations of indigenous communities are used for non-profit purposes, this fact should be taken into consideration.

Finally, the contracts ceding copyrights should contain special safeguards, which guarantee credits of collective authorship, and the total or partial reproduction of the works credited should be prohibited without the prior and express authorization of the community which created these works. In the case of ceding the use of image rights, it is also important to guarantee that the use of the image will not been granted in an unrestricted or unlimited manner, or in a manner which offends the uses, customs, and traditions of that community and the indigenous people in general.

Copyrights and the rights to use the image of indigenous peoples in Brazil. Copyrights and the rights to use the image of indigenous peoples in Brazil are not yet fully and clearly supported in Brazilian legislation. As a result, we have noted that the indigenous communities are currently seeking solutions and creative means to ensure their rights. It is hoped that that Brazilian legislation will incorporate these initiatives. (Ana Valéria Araújo – outubro/ 2000).


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