Indonesia's lax logo laws

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Kopi Gayo coffeeReki Mayangsari, manager and co-owner of Ladybamboo Villa in Ubud, went to Toraja, Sulawesi, in 1999 and stayed in Novotel Hotel there. When she went rafting she saw the logo she had designed herself, used on the hotel's lunch box. Upon returning to the hotel, she was even more disturbed to see her logo in its Bamboo Bar.

She promptly asked to see the general manager and confronted him regarding his appropriation of her design. Being an honest person and also probably taken aback by Mayangsari's assertiveness, the manager, a French national, showed his good faith by withdrawing the logo from the hotel's property.

A subsequent investigation by Mayangsari revealed that the logo design had come from a local printer. Two years previously, in 1997, Mayangsari was conducting research in Toraja, and went to have some business cards made. Unknown to her, the printer kept the design, and when Novotel contacted them to have a design made, they presented it as their own creation.

Mayangsari's experience is not an isolated occurrence. Appropriating someone else's designs has been common practice in Indonesia. Intellectual property rights have not been high on the authorities' priority list.

On the rare occasion where the original owner contacts the guilty party and threatens action, the copied design is withdrawn and the matter settled out of court. Most of the time, people do not bother. They either do not regard it as important enough, or want to avoid confrontation or expensive legal avenues.

This complacent attitude costs them dearly, as they discover too late that products have been copyrighted by overseas companies. Those who want to manufacture and sell these products then need to pay royalties to those companies.

The growers of Kopi Gayo, a special coffee from Aceh highland, named after the local tribe who process the beans, can no longer sell their product under the name they used for generations, because a Dutch firm officially claimed Gayo coffee as its trademark.

What jolted many people in Bali and East Java is a recent case where an international jewellery company took its former employee to court, charging him with appropriating designs of which the company holds the copyrights.

While the court case is going on, a social cultural phenomenon is taking place. Local jewellery manufacturers are fearful that they will be next, because they discovered that 800 of Indonesia's traditional motifs, 12 of which are Balinese, had been copyrighted by the company, in Indonesia and the United States.

Some examples were the motifs of Palu, which have usually been found on brass bowls; Jawan Keplak on silver items; Tulang Naga from Lumajang, East Java; Batik Kawung from Yogyakarta and Solo; and Dayak from Kalimantan.

While the designs are not traditional motifs in their whole forms, they are based on traditional motifs which have been used for generations in their original cultures by artisans and artist-designers. No artisans in Indonesia have objected to the company using them, what dismays the artisans is that they seem excluded from the use.

The artisans' fear may be baseless. Ideally speaking, each artist-designer has a unique interpretation of a particular traditional motif. It is the combination of motif and interpretation which can be copyrighted.

However, with 80 designers working full time, producing perhaps one design a week, or two a month, is there any guarantee that one or two will not be similar enough to those copyrighted by the company, to be actionable? Once they are taken to court, will they be able to afford the costs?

Meanwhile there is hardly any indication that authorities feel the need to set up an accessible, affordable intellectual property rights regime by which local artist-designers can copyright their own work. The few like Mayangsari have had to plough through dense bureaucracy and pay high fees, and over a year later, are still waiting.

Dewi AnggraeniDewi Anggraeni is a novelist and journalist. In March 2007, Equinox Publishing and the International Labour Organisation in Jakarta published Dreamseekers, her eighth book.


Topic tags: Anggraeni, intellectual property rights, indonesia, bali, Reki Mayangsari, Ladybamboo Villa, Kopi Gayo



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Existing comments

Most Indonesians, like myself, don't know how to register a brand. Facing the bureaucracy is always interpreted as long waiting time and money. It's time for those concerned with the issue to show some practical way to do it. Enough cases and examples. Just show us how. And more important is how long and how much will it take. I opened the, and it shows many things but "Registrasi Online" has no link yet. Searching for "Merk" returns "Server error, details are :
value". If the official site doesn't work there should be alternative sites to provide the same information (or perhaps even better).

Putranto Sangkoyo | 01 November 2008  


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