The Authors' Take - Protection of Traditional Art Forms under Geographical Indications Law: A Case Study of Madhubani and Sujini Art Forms of Bihar, India

Protection of Traditional Art Forms under Geographical Indications Law: A Case Study of Madhubani and Sujini Art Forms of Bihar, India

Using case studies of two of the oldest art forms practiced in Bihar, India, this article analyses challenges relating to the implementation of the law on Geographical Indications (GIs) in India, to better protect the rights and the craft of its most important stakeholders: the artists. This article is also a critique of the application of the current Indian GI regulatory framework to its traditional handicraft sectors. 

To address the relevant research questions, we undertook qualitative interviews with Sujini and Madhubani artists, their representatives and officials from government bodies, supported by field visits to the Muzzafarpur district, Bihar. 

We found that the GI label accorded to these art forms has become an effective tool for the artists’ self-expression. However, a GI registration has made limited contribution to ensure an increased economic rationale for their artists, and the reasons for that are manifold. These include, inter alia: lack of adequate government support in post-GI registration stages, ineffective provisions for quality control, discrepancies in the definition of ‘Goods’ and ‘GI’, the anomalous concept of ‘authorised user’, and difficulties in application for registration requirements. Issues with the construction and implementation of the law pose serious limitations to the rights of the artists to ensure economic returns from their artworks.

The findings derived with reference the Sujini and Madhubani artworks are also relevant to the broader question of whether GIs can protect the traditional knowledge (TK/IK) of the stakeholders of the handicraft industry, as well as other types of GI products. Based on some of the recommendations provided by existing studies on other types of GI, we suggest several legislative amendments to strengthen the extant legal framework on GIs in India. We also recommend several practical measures that can be taken by the artists or their associations for a more effective utilisation and enforcement of their GI rights.

[This is an Authors' Take post, which provides readers with an insight into current IP scholarship, featuring preliminary comments and thoughts from authors of articles accepted for publication in forthcoming issues of the Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (OUP). The full text of this contribution, which will be included in our special Image Rights Issue, will be made available on Advance Access soon] 

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