There are up to 80 companies around the world using either the Maasai image or name, according to Light Years IP, an NGO specialising in intellectual property rights in developing countries, and the total amount made off the Maasai name by these companies is in the billions. And they don’t even bother – or need – to ask for permission. The Maasai brand is worth $10 million Dollars a year, at least, according to Ron Layton, the founder and head of Light Years IP; meanwhile, 80% of the Maasai live below the poverty line. Well, it looks like the Maasai have had enough of freely inspiring everybody; the free ride might not be free for much longer, if the Maasai elders have their way.
It’s about time the Maasai (and other groups/traditions/cultures like them) get the respect they deserve – both in form of control over their traditions and their use as well as in form of financial compensation when their images, name, etc are used. The article is well worth a read in full. The way to reclaiming the brand will not be easy, because the Maasai are of course not a monolithic block either, they are spread out geographically over several nation-states, and the issue of cultural copyright is complex. Also the corporations using and benefiting from the Maasai name/branding for free at the moment won’t likely give up that easily. For that issue, a campaign to put social pressure on companies to adhere to a voluntary code. It has already worked to some degree for the Aboriginals of Australia.