Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 29th 2013 Contents B9
Wednesday, May 29, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
• From Page B8
It is not yet certain that the Maasai will choose
to pursue intellectual property protection---Maasai
elders like Isaac ole Tialolo want to be sure that the
whole community is on board first.
Together with Light Years IP, he has been travelling
around Maasai areas holding meetings and work-
It s a huge task---according to some estimates,
there could be as many as three million Maasai, in
12 districts, spread across a vast swathe of Kenya
So far, they have reached about 1.2 million peo-
Once the consultation is complete---and if the
Maasai choose to go forward---the plan is to create
a General Assembly of Maasai elders, trained in IP,
who would act as a legal body specifically on this
issue, negotiating with companies via a licensing
agent, on a case-by-case basis.
That s the dream at least. But according to some
lawyers the Maasai case is not especially strong in
terms of international property law.
"They are on a sticky wicket with the law," says
Ben Goodger, an expert on international IP law and
a partner at the law firm Edwards Wildman Palmer.
IP law, he says, has been designed for new busi-
nesses and people creating innovations---and it s
not really well-suited to this kind of case.
Patents, for example, would offer little or no pro-
tection to the Maasai, because the product or service
has to be new.
Trademarks could potentially offer a better route.
But trademarks are issued on a first-come-first-
served basis, and a number of companies have
already got trademarks for use of the Maasai name
"It looks to me like they have got some quite
powerful opponents," says Goodger. "Those guys
may not just give that up easily."
The idea of cultures seeking IP protection is not
an entirely new one---the Native American Navajo
recently brought a case against the clothes company
Urban Outfitters, for use of their name.
But perhaps the best parallel with the Maasai is
the case of Aborigines in Australia who, 15 years
ago, secured a voluntary code that governs use of
their cultural and intellectual property.
Voluntary codes can be just as powerful as legal
routes, argues Ron Layton.
They are useful in creating an industry norm,
which can serve as a kind of name-and-shame tool
for those who don t sign up.
"That s very clever. That s exactly what they
should do," says Bruce Webster, an independent
international branding expert.
"Then it s a proud, ancient people against exploita-
tive Western multinationals---and they ll win the
PR battle absolutely."
For the moment, the Maasai are not going after
any companies---though they have written to a num-
ber, in cases where they have found the use of their
name or image to be particularly offensive.
They are sensitive about the portrayal of their
bodies, for example, and they don t like images of
their jewelry used inappropriately.
Each colour of bead has a special meaning.
"This, we call it norkiteng," says Isaac, holding
up a circular necklace with threaded beads hanging
down from points of the circle.
It is given as a gift to a new bride. Used in some
commercial contexts it can seem disrespectful.
Two Maasai men walk in front of a mountain
"It offends me because they don t know the
meaning---they misuse it," says Isaac.
If the Maasai do take control of their brand, large
sums of money could suddenly start flowing into
"The Maasai have been already been branded like
there s no tomorrow, but they haven t seen the ben-
efits," says Duncan Green, senior strategic adviser
for Oxfam GB. He supports the IP campaign in
principle, but warns there could be problems, without
a system in place to ensure the money is used fair-
ly.It s an issue the Maasai have thought about. The
proposed General Assembly of elders would, it has
been suggested, be underpinned by a constitution
specifying how the money should be distributed
But for Isaac at least, it is not primarily about
the money. "What matters is the respect," he says.
He has hosted a series of live phone-ins in the
indigenous Maa language---and the phones have
To Western ears, it might sound counter-intuitive
for the Maasai to be hotly debating notions such
as intellectual property, copyright and trademarks---
such emblems of modern capitalism.
But, says Isaac, though these may not be terms
they are familiar with, the Maasai have a strong
sense of ownership of their culture---and a visceral
sense of violation where they feel their image has
been misused. (BBC)
Maasai fight misuse of image
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