The digitisation, and sometimes unauthorised dissemination of cultural knowledge through the Internet challenges intellectual property rights. However, open access to knowledge is seen as a legitimate need of the global community and has become a prominent theme in recent debates within international science and cultural organisations. These pressing issues and controversial views had been discussed for the Russian and the circumpolar North at a conference at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle in 2002. In my key note presentation, I pointed out that contested property rights with regard to cultural heritage of indigenous people ask for new solutions of returning that knowledge or sharing it with the local communities where the data usually originated (Kasten 2004a).
Two possible solutions were put forward and have been partly realised since then; first, to provide local communities by means of the Internet easier access to scientific outcome, which are based on their particular cultural heritage; second, to set up the collected data in a digitised way that is in a form on of CD or DVD, so that it can be used effectively by local communities, for example in their educational programmes. So it can contribute to maintaining endangered local knowledge and to stimulate its enhancement. Through this parallel approach new information technologies are not viewed only as disseminating information at low costs, but also as efficient tools inlearning and increasing cognitive capacities (cf. Kasten 2004b).
Sharing scientific results with indigenous communities through the Internet
The website http://www.siberian-studies.org is dedicated to the presentation and dissemination of case studies about Siberia and the Russian North by social and cultural anthropologists. One special regional focus of this site is on Kamchatka. But Siberian studies are also placed into a wider circumpolar context. Because of historic and recent exchanges between Siberia and the people of Northern Europe and the American Pacific Northwest, the site includes corresponding themes relating to these people.
By providing electronic access to digitised publications on Siberia and the circumpolar North, the site enhances the dialogue within the scientific community. Beyond this, it aims in particular, at returning and sharing the outcome of ethnographic research to local communities where such activities are usually conducted in collaboration with native experts. Furthermore, in addition to the essays by international scholars, particular attention is given to publications by local and native authors. Beyond monographs, some of the edited volumes are the outcome of international conferences, while others resulted from local workshops and field projects in Kamchatka.
The electronic versions of books and essays cover a great variety of themes, which are seen as relevant in the current academic debate and which are felt as pressing by local people themselves. One of the main issues is post-Soviet socio-economic transformations and risks of jeopardising cultural diversity. Particular attention is given to the preservation of endangered cultural knowledge and to native languages and to the enhancement of art and craft traditions. Indigenous knowledge in sustainable nature use is another important theme, and how that knowledge could be best transmitted from the elders to the youth by specific educational programmes and learning tools.
“Spoiled beauty” Kamchatka peninsula
Situated in the Russian Far East, Kamchatka peninsula is touched by the Pacific ocean, the Bering and Okhotskoe seas. True to its title ‘the land of fire and ice’, Kamchatka is blessed with the beauty of diverse wildlife, 160 active and inactive volcanoes, more than 150 thermal springs, crater lakes, mountain glaciers, pristine nature and fascinating culture. Kamchatka was closed to foreigners and even to Russians for many decades because of its strategic location importance for Russia with a large presence of military establishment. Finally the doors opened later than 1991.
With harsh climate and widerness, Kamchatka is very sparsely populated, averaging less than one person per square kilometer, and far away from modern ways of life. Most of the inhabitants live in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the largest city and regional capital. In the north of the peninsula, the indigenous people of Kamchatka, the Koryaks, the Itelmen, the Chukchies, and the Evens have maintained their traditional ways of life.
The untouched beauty is deceptive as Kamchatka is fighting with environmental pollution. The peninsula is filled with toxic pollutants as substantial military presence has contaminated the landscape with heavy metals, radiation, and other pollutants. Many NGOs have now started working to improve the ecology to computer education for the children of Petropavlovsk.
With these contents, this site offers a broad perspective on scientific, practically oriented and artistic works for this region. Differing viewpoints from a variety of backgrounds should help to stimulate fuller and more productive discussion and understanding among scholars, local and native experts and other practitioners of culture in the Russian North. Making such information more widely accessible even in remote communities of the region can best facilitate this.
Beyond providing indigenous communities more possibilities to participate in the debate on current issues that immediately affect their livelihoods, this site gives local scholars access to historical sources that provide complementary ethnographic information from the 18th to the early 20th century. These sources have usually been available so far only in distant libraries, in many cases as far as Moscow or St. Petersburg. Therefore, first electronic versions of historical sources on Kamchatka were produced in 1996 (Steller 1996), and the present website includes links to other institutions, which had become involved in similar activities since then.
For the realisation of the website, in-depth consultations with the individual authors and publishers had to be held to obtain the required permissions. Needless to say, that most authors have welcomed such a possibility for an even wider dissemination of their works. However, some of them have been concerned about unauthorised changes of the electronic editions of their texts, that is others might copy and paste fragments of their works for composing new texts of their own, without acknowledging the rights of the original authors. Although certain security options can be chosen for PDF files, there is no guarantee that these cannot be cracked. On the other hand, anyone who might intend could scan the printed copy and produce one’s own electronic version with OCR anyway.
More complicated have been negotiations with some of the publishers. But eventually all of them agreed as they could anticipate that it would be only to their advantage, if additional attention could be directed to these books by showing them