There is no doubt that nothing under the sun is new! We all draw inspiration from the past and recreate versions of it either for interest or for profit.
The rule is, if you are using someone’s original creation you should get permission and follow whatever requirements the originator wants for the use of their work/fashion/music/creative content.
With that said the Maasai People of East Africa often replicated by luxury, designers are here to collect all that they deserve for the use of their culture.
The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania embodies one of the most powerful images of tribal Africa – but it’s a guise that’s becoming increasingly imitated.
Companies around the world have, for some time now, continued to exploit the Maasai’s iconic cultural brand in a bid to infuse a patina of exoticism to their products and increase sales.
The most familiar, perhaps, harks back to Louis Vuitton’s 2012 spring/summer men’s collection which included hats, shirts, and scarves inspired by the Maasai Shuka – a traditional African blanket cast in colorful shades of red and blue.
The key issue here is that the Maasai people aren’t compensated for anything sold under these luxury brands’ names despite having helped them sell billions of dollars worth of goods worldwide, according to Light Years IP, a Washington DC nonprofit that works on public interest intellectual property issues internationally.
As a result, another group known as the Maasai Intellectual Property Initiative (MIPI) has been created to challenge companies referring to or copying the signature Maasai style without a licensing agreement.
it hopes that by working with the community and forcing companies to obtain licenses from the Maasai that reasonable funds can then be distributed to 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.”
In 2012, Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer collection copied Maasai colors and patterns and created controversy about cultural appropriation by international giants who really should know better.
“We are angry because we feel exploited. It’s not just that they are inspired by us. That’s a compliment, but you need to take it a bit further and involve us, otherwise, it is theft,” says well-known South African designer Maria McCloy.
“African artists are also artists and designers. We also have names. It is not just something blank that everyone has the right to come and take,” further stated.
Just as Burberry has the right to copyright and trademark its signature check, so too the Maasai should be able to protect its traditional designs.
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. There’s no international IP police that will ensure justice, but there are rules and forums for making claims internationally.
Each claimant must prosecute their own cases, and claims can be lost if people sleep on their rights too long. In practice and principle, IP law rewards those who promptly police their rights themselves, which is why the initiative organized the Maasai.
If the Maasai people are paid what they are owed, they should be collecting checks from 80 companies and at least 10 million in licensing fees for every year of use.