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The Maasai want their brand back

31 January 2018

PG says Intellectual Property law can be interesting.

From Quartz:

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.”

. . . .

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

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One Comments to “The Maasai want their brand back”

  1. prob they will choose legis something like Native American Act in usa [dont know the full name exactly] that protects the artmaking of NA people who are enrolled with fed govt, but may be broader than that.

    Last year, 12 ‘art dealers’ so called in santa fe were arrested on federal charges for bringing in fake na silver, basketry, pottery and rugs they had run up in china somewhere and which were inferior in workmanship but far cheaper as sold, far far, and the ‘art dealers’ were passing off as made by NA tribes in the US.

    Many of the old traders in that very old market have passed away or are quite elderly without progeny to take over their biz, and many of the shops have been bought up by people often from the middle eastern part of the world where turnabout is fair play in the markets.

    To see some of the sales talk re NA items, by some of the new ‘art dealers’, is comedic, as some have not studied nor lived with the cultures here and miss the archeo and anthro of it all, entirely, and make it up instead, leading to all kinds of unintended humor.

    I imagine the Maasai will gain similar, but also with various wanting to crawl in under the sill plate

    If you’d be interested in reading more about symbols and signs that appear to derive in layers of tribal culture, and the back and forth about same, read about the Zia symbol which is used on license plates in New Mex. The Zia are one of the 19 puebloan ancient tribes they symbol appears to have come from, and it is a long slog through all the ways and means people in the sw have struggled over this one very beautiful symbol of sun with rayos.

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