I recently stumbled upon a blog post that talked about the Maasai people as a tribe wanting to sue companies for copyright. I quickly became intrigued and wondered why the thought never crossed my mind. Seriously, for years and years companies both big and small have commercialized the name and image of the Maasai tribe and earned millions of dollars in profit. The Maasai’s style is iconic to say the least. The tribe draws in tourists worldwide to Kenya and Tanzania. Photographers flock to take pictures of the Maasai then sell and publish them for a high price without paying the “model” any fees. According to an article in Bloomberg, “six companies have each made more than $100 million in annual sales during the last decade using the Maasai name. In 2003, Jaguar Land Rover sold limited-edition versions of its Freelander called Maasai and Maasai Mara. Louis Vuitton’s 2012 spring-summer men’s collection included scarves and shirts inspired by the Maasai shuka. The shoe company Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT) says on its website that the distinctive curved soles of its sneakers were inspired by “the wonderfully agile Maasai [sic] people walking barefoot.” Bedding by Calvin Klein, shirts and trousers by Ralph Lauren, and cushions by Diane von Furstenberg have all been sold using the tribe’s name”.
Louis Vuitton 2012 Spring-Summer Men's Collection. Images obtained from Vogue
So do the Maasai have grounds to sue? I believe so when you consider the international laws that protect intellectual properties. The Maasai ‘s name and related images should be regarded intellectual property since they are owned and unique to the Maasai tribe. So to make this possible the Maasai would have to copy right and trademark their image, name, and related products. Realistically I do not see this happening anytime soon unless a group of non-profit advocates step up to help the Maasai people. The revenue obtained from branding licenses should be used to further develop and support Maasai communities, focusing on health and education initiatives. Another logical solution would be the African government standing up and protecting the rights of its population. Well, history has proven……….
What are your thoughts? Is this realistic? Do they have a chance? Sound off