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Why written agreements are important for First Languages Projects

In August 2019, Terri Janke and I had the opportunity to attend PULiiMA, the big Indigenous languages conference in Garramilla (Darwin), Larrakia country. It was a fantastic experience. Attending talks and performances, and speaking to the attendees, the importance of Indigenous language work was very clear. It was also clear that many language workers are keen to learn more about Intellectual Property (IP) and how they could use it to protect the Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP) in their language projects. This largely coincides with the work that we at Terri Janke and Company have spearheaded in collaboration with Indigenous language centres around Australia.

PULiiMA is a biennial celebration of Indigenous languages in Australia. This one was particularly special as it was the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019. The year was a big success in raising awareness for the importance of language and the work of the many Indigenous language and cultural centres and communities, that it highlighted how much more could be done to protect, revitalise, preserve and promote Indigenous Languages.

The United Nations has now designated the years 2022-2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages.

In recognition of the International Year of Indigenous Languages, the Australian Government’s (then) Department of Communications and the Arts commissioned Terri Janke and Company to prepare the First Languages, Law & Governance Guide. Many thanks to all the language centres that made this publication possible – we could not have done it without you!!

The Guide highlighted the importance of language centres’ use of agreements in managing IP and ICIP rights. Language centres are archives of enormous amounts of information with growing collections accessed by language speakers and researchers; and they produce language resources for the language learning process. This means that language centres often find themselves managing a lot of IP and also dealing with ICIP rights.

A key tool to ensure these rights are protected now and into the future is by using written agreements. Written agreements play a key role in the protection and revitalisation of Indigenous languages. They are a useful tool to ensure Indigenous control, contribution and consent at all stages of language maintenance projects and programs.

Written agreements are important because they give legal effect to assignments of copyright, consents for moral rights and clearances of performer’s rights. This is necessary because without written agreements, the general laws of copyright apply, which preference individual authorship of the person putting the language knowledge into written form. Agreements can be used to change these rules to how your language centre would like the rights to be held. We recommend you have agreements for recording projects, and for when creating language materials. You should also use them for getting permission from artists for the use of artistic works and photographs. In this way you can ensure that you have managed the intellectual property rights to enable your language centre to own and control your language resources.

Now that we are moving into the International Decade of Indigenous Languages it is likely that there will be a lot more language projects. Having key documents in place is important for language centre record keeping. It also establishes a best practice system for managing IP and ICIP. Here is a list of key documents that may be useful for language centres:

  • Language Centre ICIP Protocols for managing IP and ICIP

  • First Nations Language recording agreement – Language speaker forms

  • Commission of Linguist agreements

  • Licence agreements for using existing copyright works and photographs

  • Working with artist's agreements

  • Working with photographer’s agreements

  • Imprint page templates for language resources

Terri Janke and Company would love to help you in your vitally important work! If you would like to discuss how we can help, please call us on (02) 9693 2577 or email Laura Curtis, Solicitor and co-author of the First Languages Law and Governance Guide, at

Finally, everyone here at TJC would love to send out a huge thank you to all the languages centres for doing such important work for revitalising, strengthening and promoting Indigenous languages!

Photo 2: Terri Janke and Faith Baisden from First Languages Australia (FLA)

Photo 3: Aunty June Mills, Uncle Ossie Cruse, Terri Janke and Aunty Kathy

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