Miranda Forsyth

A Pluralist Account of Intellectual Property Regulation in the Pacific Islands: the example of Water Music in Vanuatu

Associate Professor Miranda Forsyth, Australian National University

Abstract: This presentation illustrates the pluralities in intellectual property regulation in the Pacific islands through examining the case study of the intellectual property claims over a cultural performance known as water music in Vanuatu. Water music is a unique musical form that involves slapping, scooping, and pounding water to produce distinctive rhythms and a beautiful visual performance as well. There are multiple contestations over many aspects of the rights to learn, perform and derive income from water music. These inter-linking sets of disputes and claims offer useful insights into the development of customary law, or kastom as it is known in Vanuatu, and the multiple ways in which the global intellectual property system is making inroads into the region.

This case study also provides an insight into the wide array of mechanisms that bring about compliance in kastom, showing that formal dispute reconciliation mechanisms are only one part of a wide range that includes fear of black magic, community pride, public shaming, threats of state procedures and entrenched societal (and legal) principles and values. It illuminates the way in which women’s rights over certain types of intangible cultural heritage are threatened through its monetization and the range of claims able to be made by mobile men with claims to customary power and access to the state.

The presentation addresses the question of ‘What is so special about the Asian-Pacific’ by describing a complex entangling of regulatory systems in constant development and contestation.

Speaker Bio: Miranda Forsyth is an Associate Professor at RegNet and also a Fellow at SSGM in the College of Asia and Pacific at ANU. In July 2015 she completed a three year ARC Discovery funded project to investigate the impact of intellectual property laws on development in Pacific Island countries.  She is the co-author of Miranda Forsyth and Sue Farran, Weaving Intellectual Property Policy in Small island Developing States, Intersentia 2015, available at http://intersentia.com/en/shop/professioneel/weaving-intellectual-property-policy-in-small-island-developing-states.html

Prior to coming to the ANU, Miranda was a senior lecturer in criminal law at the law school of the University of the South Pacific, based in Port Vila, Vanuatu for eight years. 

The broad focus of Miranda’s research is investigating the possibilities and challenges of the inter-operation of state and non-state justice and regulatory systems. She also works on the issue of how best to localize or vernacularize the foreign legal norms and procedures.

At present her focus is on examining these issues in the context of both the protection of traditional knowledge and introduction of western intellectual property regimes, and also the regulation of sorcery and witchcraft related violence in Melanesia.