Is culture copyright?

Today I’ve been thinking about Māori culture and how often these days we see things ‘pop up’ on the other side of the world  that have their origins in Aotearoa.

“Imitation is the best form of flattery” – is that true? What if the imitation butchers the original? What if the imitation doesn’t understand cultural significance or deeper meaning?  What if the imitation is all about making money?

New Zealand: Mâori Culture and Intellectual Property Law

This is an article that talks about the protection of Traditional Indigenous cultural expression from inappropriate use.

It begins by saying that “any discussion of Māori rights in the context of New Zealand law should begin with the Treaty of Waitangi.”

Haka Ka Mate Attribution Act (2014)

“On 22 April 2014, the Haka Ka Mate Attribution Bill became part of our law. This Act is the first of its kind in New Zealand because it’s the first piece of legislation to arise out of settlement negotiations that provides some quasi-intellectual property protection to a taonga (treasure) of an iwi.”

This is a really interesting piece of law as the Ka Mate haka has become famous around the world.  It does not stop people outside of Ngāti Toa using it, but it must be attributed to Te Rauparaha as the composer of Ka Mate, and a chief of Ngāti Toa Rangatira. “The statement must be ‘clear and reasonably prominent’ and used in a way likely to bring the attribution to the attention of the viewer or listener.”

In 2006 Fiat made a commercial using women doing the haka to launch a new model car. They went ahead with it despite being told of its cultural inappropriateness.

2012 Indigenous Fellowship Programme

Carwyn Jones was one of 23 representatives of indigenous people who were chosen to attend this conference.

“For us as an indigenous community it is important to get the right to develop the resources on the land that was historically taken from us,” says Carwyn Jones, a member of the Māori nation Ngāti Kahungunu in New Zealand. “We want to be part of the decision-making process, to have a say in how the natural environment is managed.”

Check out what he had to say about the importance of fighting for the right to protect Māori culture.

Waitangi Tribunal Claim – protecting Maori language

A vital part of Māori culture is of course the language. The Māori language claim was made to the Waitangi Tribunal in 1985.

“The claimants asserted that the Treaty of Waitangi, signed between Māori chiefs and the Crown in 1840, obliged the Crown to protect te reo Māori; the Crown had failed to do this and was therefore in breach of the Treaty. The claimants asked that the Crown officially recognise te reo Māori, particularly in broadcasting, education, health and the public service.”

Who owns the copyright on your tāmoko?

An Auckland university professor warned sports players (and the rest of us should take note too) that they could be in hot water over copyright law regarding the designs of their tāmoko (tattoos).

“You’ve got prominent sportspeople with very distinctive tattoos, and then when they want to be in advertisements or video games, that portray their character. The tattoo artists have been turning around and saying hold on I own that tattoo you can’t do that.”

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