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Is folk art copyrightable?

Folk art encompasses a wide range of creative works in the literary, artistic, and scientific domains that have been passed down from generation to generation within a particular ethnic or national group, and form a crucial part of their cultural heritage. These works include folklore, poetry, music, dance, ceremonies, visual arts, and more. While many specific expressions of folk art may technically qualify for copyright protection, the intersection between copyright law and folk art is complex. Some countries have passed laws specifically aimed at protecting folk art, which can conflict with copyright in a number of ways. For instance, copyright is limited in duration, whereas folk art requires permanent protection as cultural heritage. Copyright also typically requires individual rights holders, whereas folk art often belongs to entire communities or ethnic groups. Due to these challenges, many countries have established separate legislation to protect folk art. The Tunis Model Law on Copyright for Developing Countries is an example of such legislation, and many other countries have created similar laws. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is also exploring ways to protect traditional cultural expressions through the Intergovernmental Committee on Traditional Knowledge, Genetic Resources, and Folklore (IGC).

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