In her article, ... THE MEANINGS OF CULTURE (M/C Journal, vol 3, issue 2) ..., Asa Berger writes, "There are, so I understand, something like a hundred different definitions of culture used by anthropologists." Such a statement indicates that people are talking about a nebulous entity, whenever they even utter the word. How, then, can anybody make claims of ownership to an entity that is so open to interpretation? How can anybody invoke the concept of "property" to hold onto something that, by its very nature, evades grasping in a consistent manner?
The simple answer is that nobody reasonably can.
But who ever said that all claims by human beings are reasonable? Many claims are, in fact, unreasonable, which seems to be a characteristic of human cultures, in general. Reason is not the guide, but rather confusion is, which leads to negative feelings, conflicts, and inevitable breakdowns in good relations.
The popular logic of "cultural property", which currently seems to be in vogue in discussions about intellectual property, falls into this quagmire of confused claims that some humans attempt to use in establishing distinct identities in view of other humans whom they view as intellectual-property thieves. "Cultural intellectual property" can refer to any style, design, practice, or idea that anybody assigns to a particular group of people as ..."theirs"... by virtue of their race, historical use, or historical association with such intangibles.
Such logic artificially separates these intangible things from the total flow of human history, and it designates a particular subset of moments in time as the sole result of the particular group. Such logic idealistically distills and purifies the subset of historical moments and creates a code of expectation in how people are supposed to express identity with this group. The effect of such logic is to further isolate one group from another group and to create privileged barriers that prevent cross fertilization of different cultures.
The idea of "cultural property", then, in the sphere of intellectual property, creates walls that disable harmonious contact between people. Rather than creating definitions of people that enable respect, this idea erroneously forces stasis onto people processes that are fluid and dynamic, sometimes messy, subject to contamination and mutation. This is how evolution occurs. Nobody can own evolution. Nobody can own a process this big. Culture, similar to evolution, is a big process, whose boundaries are actually arbitrary in the greater scheme of things. The ideas, styles and designs of culture do not maintain unique identities over long periods -- they get absorbed into new arrangements within the whole course of Earth's evolution. At best, humans can make momentary claims on such things to enable the practical operation of civilizations, but to demand precise identity over long spans is to commit the greatest error imaginable, which is ignoring reality.
Click on this pic to order a t-shirt that rejects the idea:
Nobody Owns Culture