Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 29, 2020

Protocols for using First Nations Cultural and Intellectual Property in the Arts (2020)

The Australia Council has released its updated version of the Protocols for using First Nations Cultural and Intellectual Property in the Arts (2020).

Whether you are a reader, a reviewer or a writer, it’s important to know these protocols, which are there to guide us in our interpretation of works involving Indigenous heritage, culture, history and intellectual property.  As Dr Terri Janke,  explains:

“While works by individual artists are protected by copyright, Australia does not yet have a law that prevents alteration, distortion or misuse of traditional symbols, songs, dances, performances and story that may be part of the heritage of particular Indigenous language groups. This is where the Australia Council for the Arts’ Protocols for using First Nations Intellectual and Cultural Property in the Arts comes in. The protocols provide a pathway for collaborations and creation of new Indigenous work.”  (Source: Australian Council website).

Just last week I started to read and abandoned a novel by an English author who, after a short period in Australia during the 1990s, took it upon herself to tell the story of a policeman traumatised by his role in removing Indigenous children from their families under the Stolen Generations policy.  I didn’t review it because I don’t review books that I don’t finish, but it was historically inaccurate and from that standpoint it was cringeworthy.   I say nothing of its merits or otherwise within its genre, but whether this novel was specifically in breach of these protocols or not, it seems to me that to use the tragedy of the Stolen Generations for a mystery/thriller is tawdry and disrespectful.

Which is why I recommend that we can all educate ourselves about these protocols to inform the judgements and interpretations that we make about books.

At the Copyright Agency Ltd website, it sets out ten principles for respecting Indigenous cultural and intellectual property:

  1. Respect
  2. Self-determination
  3. Communication, consultation and consent
  4. Interpretation
  5. Cultural integrity and authenticity
  6. Secrecy and confidentiality
  7. Attribution
  8. Benefit sharing
  9. Continuing cultures
  10. Recognition and protection

For our purposes as readers, reviewers and writers, the implementation of the protocols is demonstrated through case studies which include Tara June Winch’s Miles Franklin Literary Award-winning novel The Yield; and Magabala Books’ Indigenous-led storytelling and writing collaborations.

To read the protocols, click here.


  1. Thank you, Lisa, for sharing.


    • Good old Twitter, where would we be without it!


  2. Sounds reasonable.


    • Yes, I think most of it is. The only thing that worries me is that it implies such a lot of extra work to do things well, that some writers may default to omitting Indigenous issues and characters altogether, which would make them invisible in our literature.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks, Lisa, this is a helpful resource. Also, I’m dying to know what that British book was you didn’t finish!


    • My lips are sealed…
      I don’t think it’s fair to name it when I didn’t finish it.


  4. […] The day began with a call to action from Julie Janson, a Burruberongal woman of the Darug Aboriginal Nation.  Her keynote address was called Recovery – Restoring, Reconciling and Re-imagining Lost Histories, and amongst other things it was a reminder that historical novelists using Australian settings need to take account of the protocols for including Indigenous history and characters.  […]


  5. […] If you want to know what he means by this, you could attend one of his workshops, as I have, courtesy of the Victorian Writers Centre, or you could read the Protocols for using First Nations Cultural and Intellectal Property 2020. […]


  6. […] Black history, and if I had my way, every creative writing school would begin by teaching the protocols and then make this short novel a set text for critique.  Missus is not a novel about […]


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: