PG says Intellectual Property law can be interesting.
The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania have a distinctive look that is widely imitated. Their style and name alike have been used by high-end designers such as Louis Vuitton, manufacturers like moccasin maker Minnetonka, and many more. You can buy a “Maasai” bathing suit for $300, or a “Maasai mosh dress” for $430, online, right now.
These items are not actually made by the Maasai people, though, nor are they compensated for anything sold under brands using their name, which has helped sell billions of dollars worth of goods worldwide over the years, according to Light Years IP, a Washington, DC nonprofit that works on public interest intellectual property issues internationally. That’s why it created the Maasai Intellectual Property Initiative (MIPI), putting businesses on notice. Companies must cease and desist referring to the trademark name Maasai or copying the signature Maasai style without a licensing agreement.
MIPI works to represent Maasai IP rights by organizing the community, gaining consensus on appropriate usage of the brand, forcing companies to obtain licenses from the Maasai to use their intellectual property, and then distributing funds as has been deemed appropriate by the people. “Nearly 80% percent of the Maasai population in Kenya and Tanzania are living below the poverty line,” the website explains. “Yet their distinctive and iconic cultural brand and intellectual property concepts have been used commercially around the globe.”
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Here’s an example of how copyright and trademark work in this situation. Burberry—like the Maasai—have a signature check, and a distinct name that has positive associations in consumers’ minds, connected with their brand. They defend their name and pattern with IP enforcement action. The Burberry plaid can’t be copied, and the name is so famous it belongs exclusively to the British brand.
The Maasai are saying that companies borrowing traditional designs and patterns of cloth and beading, as well as their name, should pay for the privilege or desist, just as Burberry would demand. But IP rights have to be enforced by those who claim them.
Link to the rest at Quartz