Local Contexts Video

Local Contexts

... because the 's' matters.

Learn More

Traditional Knowledge licenses and labels recognize that Indigenous, traditional and local communities have different access and use expectations in regards to their knowledge and cultural expressions. These different expectations of access and use depend heavily on the material itself and the local context from which it derives. These TK licenses and labels help identify this material and establish culturally appropriate forms of managing control and access.


Local Contexts is an open forum for the testing and application of tk licenses and labels to digital cultural content. The licenses are designed to be legally defensible across multiple jurisdictions and directly address the specific needs of Indigenous, traditional and local communities whose needs are not met by current legal solutions. The labels are designed as a non-legal, educational strategy that can deal with cultural material already in the public domain.

We encourage users of Local Contexts to make comments, post ideas and exchange information about uses of and issues surrounding the TK licenses and labels. Sharing these experiences and stories will help everyone. The more information we have the better we will know how the licenses and labels work in your local context.


Using the TK Licenses and Labels requires individual and community decision-making. This is especially the case for material that is not owned individually but should be controlled collectively. The decision making processes for using these TK Licenses and Labels should be established before you choose which one will suit your needs. This will enable dialogue about what option best suits your needs. Each family, clan or community will have different processes and frameworks for decision-making. Some communities are in the process of establishing cultural authorities to help make decisions about a range of IP issues facing their community. Depending on history and context, these decision-making processes will also accommodate perspectives from community members who reside in different regions.


Traditional knowledge licenses and labels are designed to help clarify local knowledge management systems and cultural protocols to external and/or non-community users. They are not designed for internal and intra- family, clan or community use.

It is important to note that TK licenses and labels do not change already existing copyright conditions. However, you can use them separately or in combination with traditional copyright or Creative Commons licenses to add new conditions of use and/or to help educate people in how your material should be respectfully and ethically treated according to your local community expectations and obligations.

The TK licenses and labels are designed to accommodate individual, family, clan, community and multiple community ownership or custodianship of cultural materials. They are not developed to manage intra or internal ownership or custodianship – they are designed to help better the relationships between indigenous, local and traditional communities and external and third party users.

Before you decide on a license or a label for your materials you should:

  • Identify the nature of the material (text, photos, audiovisual, sound etc). This is because different copyright rules and considerations apply to each type of material;
  • Determine what rights exist in those specific materials. Once you have determined what rights exist you will be able to determine what system governs use and circulation. There are two main options: conventional IP rights (such as copyright) and rights under customary law;
  • Determine who owns or is responsible for managing those rights? This might include the author of the works. Conventional copyright rights may or may not vest in the communities themselves. They will often vest in the party who physically made the recordings that are in the archive, and these rights should be assigned to the communities so they can manage them. Rights under customary law belong to the communities but unfortunately they do not bind third parties. You will want to identify whether it is an individual or collective right.
  • If you are the copyright holder or have had copyright assigned to you, you can use a license;
  • If you are not the copyright holder or have not had copyright assigned, you should use a label;
  • The TK licenses and labels set guidelines for how people can and can’t use your materials outside your community. Choosing these helps people understand the different questions of access and use that your community might have and asks them to agree to use, remix, circulate and distribute the material according to your local cultural protocols.

To learn more about each individual license and label and your options for use check out the 4 licenses and 10 labels under development now.

TK Licenses

If you are the copyright holder of the cultural material, you can choose a TK License that adds certain new culturally appropriate conditions for use, including an option that gives the custodians of the source material authority to make decisions about how this material should be shared. These licenses are additional agreements that acknowledge that with some material, special rules governing access and use of that material exist beyond those already established by copyright.

Why Use Licenses?

The TK licenses add to existing rights and responsibilities of copyright owners and copyright users. These licenses are additional agreements that acknowledge that with some material, special rules governing access and use of that material also exist. For instance, these licenses allow individuals to assign their copyright rights to their family or community and the community then becomes the legally recognized rights holder. It asks all parties to be sensitive to the Indigenous customs and laws that govern this material, and that some material in the archive or digitally circulating is sensitive, has restrictions and is not free to be used by anyone at any time.

TK Labels

The TK Labels are an educative and informational strategy to help non-community users of traditional knowledge understand the importance and significance of this material, even when it is in the public domain and appears as though it can be shared and used by everyone. This is often not the case for traditional knowledge, and the Labels are designed to identify and clarify which material has community-specific, gendered and high-level restrictions. This is especially with respect to important sacred and/or ceremonial material. The TK Labels provide an option for conveying important information about cultural materials. They can be used to include information that might be considered ‘missing’, for instance the name of community from where it derives, what conditions of use are deemed appropriate, how to contact the relevant family, clan or community to arrange appropriate permissions etc.

Why Use Labels?


The TK labels are designed for material that is already considered to be in the public domain and is no longer protected by copyright. Labels are best suited for older material or when ownership is not clear. The labels are an option for conveying important information about the material. They can be used to include information that might be considered ‘missing’, for instance name of community from where it derives, what conditions of use are deemed appropriate, how to contact the relevant community to arrange appropriate permissions. The labels help users identify sensitive cultural material and therefore also help users in making informed decisions about how this material should be used and in what ways. The labels are designed to promote the fair and equitable use of expressions of traditional knowledge.

What is

These are explanations of main legal terms and concepts to help you make decisions about using Local Contexts and the TK Licenses and Labels. They are designed to make complex legal terms more accessible and understandable and to help you clarify key concepts that you might be unsure about.


Choosing and using a license or label is a big decision. Here we provide you with a demonstration walkthrough of the TK license and label generator currently under development. We are soliciting feedback about the proecss based on this model. If you have suggestions for the process or would like to test the licenses and labels with your community or institution please contact us.


General Information
Kim Christen
Michael Ashley