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The Courts Government News

Who Owns Your Culture? 219

Galvatron writes "The Maori people of New Zealand are suing Lego for creating a polynesian-themed game without their permission, according to CNN. Ridiculous? You bet. But it's just one example of the kind of thing the Hague Convention could make possible."
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Who Owns Your Culture?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    'Fair Use' in the traditional sense probably doesn't apply - if you assume that they do own the IP then fair use certainly doesn't extend to appropriating it and selling it as a game. Parody on the other hand has to have some other redeeming free speech to be protected (ie you are using the IP, and changing it in some manner to make a point of your own).

    The real issue here is of course - who owns the IP involved in a culture - if you as a group owned it before the advent of modern IP laws and have always treated it as belonging to you, handed down from generation to generation do you get grandfathered in (perhaps in a common-law sort of way) as having a different sort of IP that is owned communally and is passed on differently.

    NZ has struggled with these issues on a number of fronts for the past few decades - communally owned tribal land is another good example - plus there are many other issues in and around what was promised in the orignal treaty where the Maori ceded sovreignty to the British crown - basicly stuff was promised by the Brits and those promises were not kept - this is slowly being made right - at great expense (think of the interest alone on stuff that was taken from people 150 years ago) and gnashing of teeth on both sides (though in general I think it's a positive process) - what we are seeing in this article is yet another skirmish in that process.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "The New Zealand Story" was a great game, but the depiction of our national bird as a yellow chicken irritated me immensely.

    The brown kiwi is brown, it has a long beak, cannot fly and lays huge eggs. This is what it's known for. It is not a yellow chicken. There are many cartoon depictions of kiwis (e.g. the TV kiwi who played when the TV channel switched off for the night) and even stylised kiwis (like the ones on recycling logos). They were not yellow chickens.

    Warner Brothers with their kiwi depiction (in Tazmania) was bad also.

    And USians seem to like abbreviating the word kiwifruit to kiwi (well it was originally chinese gooseberry anyway).

    Grump grump grump :-( yes I've had a bad day today. Oh well, I'm off to see the US navy win the battle in "Pearl Harbour" (disney version) :-) where apparently Polynesians are a lot fewer on the set than they are in real life.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    So successful methodology in warfare is the measure of civilization, even if the tactics fail in the long run? C'mon! Even accepting that the Maori "had carbine rifles before the english" (presumably it helped, not having to go through all those bothersome intermediary steps such as developing steel)... 1) How many heads are you counting? Any metric "per head" is going to look a hell of a lot more impressive among the Maori than among, say, the backward heathen Chinee. (But Heaven help us if they ever jump up and down in unison.) 2) What "technology" are you using per head? Running water? Electricity? Broadband DSL? "It supports buildings, provides replacement bones, preserves food, brings power to the needy... it's metals." (A message brought to you by the National Metals Council.) Having said all that, I am not about to claim that the Maori are a "primitive" culture. I don't know within light-years what the Maori culture has produced, but I do know that they're made up of humans, and if there's one thing we upright apes are good at it is creating culture. I'll bet any money that there are cultural and societal innovations amongst the Maori that Western Europeans never thought of. I'll even bet that there are ideas among them that would substantially benefit WEs if we/they ever really took the time to think about them. Technology in general is one area, maybe the only area, where Western European culture (already one major misnomer in its own right) is totally and absolutely in the lead. To claim that the Maori are "not primitive" is correct; to claim that they are not primitive *because* they use, per capita, more of a Western European resource than WE does... is just sad and unconvincing, IMO. Dr. Frog
  • Every primary school I'm aware of teaches Maori, and all the secondary schools where I grew up had it as an option (and Taranaki is hardly a bastion of Maori culture).

  • Maybe that would be a good thing. If you have ever studied Disney cultural history and their exports to foriegn countries, you'd be perfectly aware that Disney pushes a _weird_ agenda, _hard_, and deserves to be called on it. Disney is actually a terrific example of this type of cultural violence. For instance, how many smallpox-infected blankets or massacres were in 'Pocahontas'?

    Disney's at least as good as 'Pravda' at reinventing history and truth for pragmatic reasons- and they are believed every bit as unquestioningly. This bears watching.

  • The British suing the US/Canada/Ireland/Rest of the World for use of the English Language?
    The Mexican Government suing Taco Bell for Culture Infringement for their spicy delacicies?
    The Arabian peoples suing the Western world for use of arabic numbers?

    When does culture become intellecutal property? If this is the case, when does it expire? Even Windows Source Code has an experation date.

    Secret windows code
  • True, but the modern pizza (i.e., since the 17th century) is not possible without the tomato of the New World as discussed here [geocities.com].
    OpenSourcerers [opensourcerers.com]
  • There is an interesting page here [pitt.edu] where the various versions of the persecuted heroine story are online. Apparently there are hundreds of such folktales but the earliest one documented was written down by Charles Perrault (as you say) in Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités: Contes de ma mère l'Oye (Paris, 1697).

    The Brothers Grimm version first appeared in Kinder- und Hausmärchen, 1st ed. (Berlin, 1812), v. 1, no. 21.


    OpenSourcerers [opensourcerers.com]
  • Your're right. Senet is claimed as a trademark by IGT games. I wonder if Sierra/Impressions had to pay IGT so that it could incorporate "Senet Houses" in Pharoah.
  • by Seth Golub ( 3326 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:42PM (#182877) Homepage
    If this holds up, they'll soon find themselves being sued by pirates, medieval knights, firemen, and the association of people with bumpy yellow heads.
  • by Archfeld ( 6757 )
    you don't think the 10,000 tourists the silly rob roy and brave heart movies spawned is not some form of payment ? Neither film crew spent more than 2 weeks in scottland, mostly filmed in Ireland and the states.
  • Though the Scotts' clan may lay claim to the design they've never tried to stop anyone else from using them. This is just plain silly and the Maori are going to look even stupider to the rest of the world. Though I bet they get a lot of support from France and Quebec :)
  • rrrrridges :)
  • Lack of culture is why we have s HUGE gang problem with kids out seeking an IDENTITY that has been stripped from them by corporate america. While I won't argue differing cultures can produce friction, they also produce the MOST inovations socially, and a hugely diverse and balanced people. All good things in my book.

    BTW the lameness filter is just that LAME
  • And see if the state of New York sue us. Or let one based off an Italian Mobster in Sicily. Bull fighter in Spain? Let see who sue us.
    These have distinct culture references. Are they property of the overall culture. Can they stop other cultures from borrowing ideas from them. What about the cultures that they came before them? They borrow ideas from them. So do they really own thier own culture if it was derived from another?. My only question is were would it stop.
  • So we can have Disney sued by both the Germans and French.

    --
  • by A nonymous Coward ( 7548 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @01:04PM (#182884)
    How about Germans suing Disney for Cinderella? Would Disney then blame it on the brothers Grimm?

    Will Americans sue Mark Twain's heirs for not asking permission?

    Will Jews sue Christians for Jewish heritage in the Bible?

    How about anyone who has ever had a newspaper article written about them? Go sue the newspaper!

    And my favorite: my name, my financial records, my address, all that info -- seems to be my IP, eh? Except of course my name, which is part my parents' IP, and grandparents, etc. And the street name, which is the heritage of not only the guy it was named after, but everybody else living on it. And the city name, state, country, etc.

    I don't see how any of these are anything more than just the next step in pushing IP ownership. Pretty soon all info will be so tightly controlled, no one will be able to speak or write without violating somebody's IP, and in most cases, the true ownership will be so hard to pin down, there will be a zillion people suing each other as to who actually owns the IP! I imagine we will have to put royalties into escrow accounts until that's settled.

    I say let's go for it, get IP rights so twisted they will have to be thrown out altogether.

    --
  • Even more so, if companies can patent and protect genomes/genes that are specific to a particular community -- ie. the Icelandic fiasco -- then why shouldn't a people be able to trademark and protect their culture?

    I'm fairly sure the Slashdot crowd would be brothers-in-arms if the Maori were fighting Pfizer for ownership of their genes. What's the difference between that and fighting for their culture?


    --
  • *boggle*

    That's a staggeringly good idea. Maybe we could even get our words and culture back. It's even case-worthy (IMHO, IANAL), since we can't admit that we're members of that culture without a negative response from Joe Average (think of the racial discrimination parallels).

    The big difference that I see is that hackers are not members of any particular country, and the relavent bit of the Hague convention is designed to make IP laws enforceable under the rules of the owning party's locale.

    But, at least American hackers would have a good chance--the US seems to love IP-law enforcement.


    Linux Is Not UniX
    • Chinese can sue Japanese for stealing Go a few thousand years ago.
    • Germans can sue Americans for hamburgers and hot dogs(frankfurters).
    • Italians sue Russians for making mafias.
    • Rock bands sued for using Amerindian drums.

    --
  • It looks like the Native Americans are starting to get their own back. The Great Plains are turning fallow [sfgate.com] and the proportion of N.A. population is zooming. They'll own a few states again in a few years.
  • Man, those Samoans are a surly bunch.

    --
  • Actually, Mattel should sue Britney's parents, or perhaps humanity in general for creating people who
    look like the dolls they sell.
    --
  • OK, I'm being facetious, and since I'm at the top of fhe food chain, I can only say so much.
    Tell that to the worms, once you're in your grave!!!

    --

  • by grub ( 11606 ) <slashdot@grub.net> on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:41PM (#182892) Homepage Journal

    NEWS FLASH:Monty Python has been served notice that the heirs of King Arthur are going to sue them for creating an Arthurian-themed movie without the expressed consent of the family.

    grub

    Yes, I know Arthur was a legend :)

  • I'm jamaican and I coudl probable site a dozen simular infringments on my "culture" many of them defermations if you ask me. I forget the name but a certain Steven Segal movie that represented jamaicans as gang related drug dealers who smoked weed and were all rastafarians. to be honest I dont know that one can sue someone over defermation, misrepresentation, or un sanctioned use of ones culture but expecially with the way hollywood chooses to represent many cultures I think this is very fear. the only draw back is where would we get all the lawers for these suits, and who would collect.
  • Careful about Buddy - AOL already owns that... (sort of) [uspto.gov].
  • by Chris Pimlott ( 16212 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:45PM (#182895)
    I dunno about you, but if I were a member of an indigenous people which had been decimated in the past couple of centuries by various effects of European contact, I'm not sure I'd want some Danish toy company commodifying my identity either.

    You missed the point. It's ridiculous to think there could actually be a legal basis to such a suit.

    In a way, it's rather sublime. It's intellectual property taken to the extreme. I almost wish this would happen, as it would provide a great example of what's wrong with IP laws.

    Of course, I _almost_ wish it... with the way things have been going as of late, they might actually win... :P
  • by jimmyphysics ( 16981 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:40PM (#182896)
    How about we sue the producers of such movies as Hackers and such. They used *our* culture without our permission, and portrayed it in a negative and untrue light.
  • by RJ11 ( 17321 ) <serge@guanotronic.com> on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:39PM (#182897) Homepage
    By this same standard, any game which features characters with american names, and is in english, with allusions to the american culture, should be under similar scrutiny.

    I'm sure that if the Lego were a Polynesian company, this wouldn't be an issue either.
  • Though I don't know where the Scottish films were made

    Like all good american films, it was made right here in Toronto! :)
  • I've known Jamaicans, and frankly I'm surprised you even have the lucidity to be able to type.
  • Though I'm sure none of those words are nearly as common in everyday usage as McDonald's 'Smile'(tm)...

    'Smile' (tm) *almost* makes sense when you compare it to one of McDonald's other trademarks:
    'Hey' (tm)

    as an aside, does anyone recall a site that hosted a feature that would randomly display McD's trademarks, as well as one that would display a random domain owned by Procter & Gamble? It was mind-blowingly inane.

    --kevin

  • Hawaii has polynesian cultural roots....and that's part of the US.. so wouldn't that give the US de-facto rights to the polynesian culture?
  • Actually, as I remember the had some help from 2600, or some other group of hacker type people, although I can't remember who at just this moment. So I woulud imagine that at least Hackers had permission?
  • Remember you can file just about any suit you want. It's not getting it laughed out of court that's the hard part.

    ...and for a prime example of such stupidity see

    UNITED STATES ex rel. Gerald MAYO v. SATAN AND HIS STAFF [aol.com]

    on the Wacky Court Cases site. Its an old item, but worth a chuckle if you've never seen it before.

    --
  • I thought everybody used a 3D virtual reality interface when connecting to a foreign computer with an entirely different architecture over a dialup connection . . .

    Not only that, but software that will run on a Macintosh is capable of uploading a virus into alien computer systems (Independence Day).
  • "*boggle* ... get our words ...
    All your Boggle [hasbro.com] words are belong to Hasbro/Parker Brothers.
  • What would American courts care about GPL infringements in Germany?

    In most cases they shouldn't. If there's a GPL infringement in Germany you should sue (or not) in Germany. Your question almost seem to imply that the American courts should be involved in such circumstances, why?
  • Because the holder of the license is in America. Historically, people often sue foreigners in their own country, and then expect the other country to agree..

    Well a great many of these historical people will have been gravely dissapointed then. At best you then have to sue again in the person's own jurisdiction to get any money because your own courts simply won't have the power to seize their assets, regardless of any ruling they may make.
  • This whole discussion should be invalidated by a new first corollary to Godwin's Law. Such a Corollary should read:

    The moment someone mentions "Culture", and "Lawsuit" in the same sentence they should be taken out and whipped with a wet noodle. If a noodle isn't available then a plastic spork from Taco Bell will do the trick.

    Why? Because there is no way to win, no point to make, and no facts to prove. In this case the Maori are stupid, Lego is stupid, the whole article is stupid.

    More to the point though is that it is odd anybody should have found that the Maori suing Lego for Culteral Copyright Infringement should ever have made it into Slashdot in the first place. If the Maori had decided to sue John Deere would Slashdot have cared?
  • by Salamander ( 33735 ) <jeff@@@pl...atyp...us> on Friday June 01, 2001 @03:14PM (#182909) Homepage Journal

    I think a lot of what's being said here is pretty off-base. I think the Maori people have every right to complain about the misappropriation and commoditization of cultural symbols. Where they go wrong is in treating those symbols as intellectual property. It's not. Words and images etc. already in common use - in any language - are not copyrightable and that's that. You can't claim copyright retroactively.

    IMO Lego should offer to donate some of the profits from sale of the game to charities that help Polynesian people - not just Maori, BTW. Suits like this are the stock in trade of a few opportunistic pricks who have spent years taking advantage of their brown skin to line their own pockets with extortionate lawsuits, ruining the NZ economy in the process and generally doing exactly nothing to preserve Maori culture or improve the lot of the average Maori on the street. By making an offer to contribute to legitimate Polynesian-indigene causes and organizations, Lego would both be performing a culturally sensitive humanitarian act and showing up the charlatans for what they are (when they refuse to accept such a settlement because it doesn't make them rich).

  • The Guardian has the far more informative article:


    http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4 195290,00.html [guardian.co.uk]


    Quote of note:


    Earlier this week the Copenhagen newspaper Politiken printed extracts of the letter which alleges, among other things, that Lego is trying to obtain legal rights to Polynesian words. Lego says this is wrong: only the name Bionicle - taken from biology and chronicle - has been registered as a trademark.


    I'd side with the Maori if Lego is actually trying to obtain rights to Polynesian words and I'd side with Lego otherwise.

  • There are folks in the US who get pissed because Disney commodifies traditional western cultural symbols, fairy tales, and works of art (Hercules, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre-Dame), and I know I'm one of them.

    Disney dosn't even stop with things which started life as fiction. e.g. "Pearl Harbour" contains a fair amount of rewritings of history.

    They don't necessarily blatantly misrepresent something of cultural significance, but they remove many of the 'difficult points' to make it more accessible.

    The Brother's Grimm fairy tales probably wouldn't make it past the censor in their original form

    Unfortunately, when you do that you often remove a lot of the very subtle but highly important elements of it that you've overlooked in your 'popularization.'


    Film makers don't just take things out they also like to add things. So you end up with films full of Hollywood stereotypes.
  • Well, the crud that is sold in Dominos, Pizza Hut, Papa Johns and other places (Uno) is an American invention, since none of those remotely resemble Real Pizza(tm). Anyone who knows pizza knows that Ray's is the Only True Pizaa (all hail). And knowing this, I move to pizza hell (Minnesota), where people think Papa Johns is gourmet...

    That and the lack of good Wings this far west is incredibly dissapointing...

    --
  • by Tower ( 37395 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @01:14PM (#182913)
    MS also brought you 'Bob'(tm) and 'Windows'(tm)(c)(r)(sm)(ayb), as well as 'Start'(tm). Though I'm sure none of those words are nearly as common in everyday usage as McDonald's 'Smile'(tm)...

    --
  • did you any of you people actually bother to read the article before posting? the number of inaccuracies is appalling.

    Trade Mark
    Lego have stated that they have only applied for trade mark protection for the name 'Bionicle' and not any of the Polynesian names quoted in the cnn.com story.

    Arrogance
    I don't expect the US ./ readers to understand that those cultures with a unique identity have a desire to protect that uniqueness.

    Your ancestors ran away from their homeland, your nation has assimilated many old world cultures into what you now delude yourselves to be your unique culture.

    The USA was built using slave labour and completely ignored the existence of your own indigenous people so you shouldn't be surprised that some nations adhere to the rule of law.

    New Zealand is different, we never had a lawless wild west. The Treaty of Waitangi established between the Crown and Maori tribes in 1840 is the founding document of our nation and granted Maori full citizenship with all of the accompaning the rights and obligations. I don't remember the indigenous indian nations getting citizenship but were abused and almost wiped out by the American settlers (and your government of the day).

    Lego are mistaken, they have made (what appears to me to be) an honest error in judging the degree of reaction to their intention.

  • Well, I see two opposing sides to this, from the Maori point of view. First of all, white man has pretty much caused the loss of their culture in New Zealand. They are desparately struggling to regain knowledge of their language.

    On the other hand, Maori culture != polynesian culture. It is possible to discuss all sorts of "Polynesian Culture" without mentioning anything specifically about "Maori Culture".

    ---gralem
  • to quote Drew Carey
    "You want a Politically correct joke? A person and another person went to a place."
    We're slowly de-evolving into a everything neutral place where we can't use common language to describe anything.
  • Does this mean that New Yorkers could take offense at Monopoly (the game...

    I think you misspelled "Atlantic City."

    Tom Swiss | the infamous tms | http://www.infamous.net/

  • Where does it say this? All the article says is that they're using Maori words and oral stories, it doesn't say they're trademarking anything.
  • ...by building gigantic Lego casinoes on their reservations in New Zealand which only the Maori are allowed to own and operate.

    In seriousness, however, one wonders whether the motivation for "protecting their culture" derives from a sense that to merchandize the Maori traditions / icons / language / etc. actually cheapens the traditions (et al), or that only they, the Maori, should be allowed to merchandise and profit from their culture?

    I suspect it is the latter. I visited New Zealand for my honeymoon, and certainly saw a lot of signs that they were comfortable profiting from the "curiousity trade" around their culture. I don't say this cynically or dismissively- they were quite gracious to tourists and more than hospitable. One is left to assume that at this point, their culture itself is one of the only things with which they are able to generate an economic return. They can choose to remain a part of the Maori tribal community, and generate decent livings by simply preserving their culture and allowing tourists to 1) pay to be a part of a giant Maori banquet 2) buy various handmade Maori crafts 3) etc... OR they can leave and join the New Zealand community (which many do) and get jobs in the service sector (cab drivers, hotel workers, retail, etc...)

    Whatever the case, there may be a bright side to this whole thing. It would seem that perhaps there is a chance that this might ultimately result in a ban on Styx's 1978 album "Pieces of Eight [allmusic.com]", which featured the stone-faces of Easter Island prominently on the cover, and included a hokey-mystical-pseudo-prog-rock instrumental called "Aku Aku" at the end. In any case, it gratuitiously uses Maori symbols and words, to no coherent end. I find great joy in the hope that perhaps this Maori legal wrangling might ultimately result in the removal of this album from circulation, most particularly because it contains Dennis DeYoung's cornball classic of self-affirmation "I'm Okay". THAT deserves to be banned.

    Then again, maybe banning that album wouldn't be such a good idea, since it might result in an INCREASE in the sales for "Kilroy Was Here [allmusic.com]", a concept album about a future in which albums are banned and rockers forced underground.

    Clearly, there is a lot riding on the outcome of this issue. Don't let it end. I'm begging you. Don't let it end this way-hey-hayyyyyyy.

  • Didn't American lawyers invent the cultural phenomenon of "suing anyone you can over anything at all"? Does this mean that the American Bar Association should be suing the Maori for violating their culture and traditions?

  • I wonder if any signatory countries to the Hague Convention allow that and would be willing to offer me a fair price for that service. I might be interested. I'd be happy to license it for a reasonable price, along with an editorial veto if I don't like the context, say in a mailing list. Of course, my license would not include any right to rent it or resell it.
  • There are folks in the US who get pissed because Disney commodifies traditional western cultural symbols, fairy tales, and works of art (Hercules, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre-Dame)

    Not only in the US :o)

    In fact, what's really annoying is not their ripping-off of foreign cultures. After all, culture is meant to be shared. No, the really annoying thing is that they never, ever mention the origins of their "creations".

    In other words, making a movie about Notre-Dame de Paris is okay, but not even citing Victor Hugo's name once is most definitely NOT ! -and that's what really pissed us about the Hunchback.

    And I think it's pretty much the same thing with these Maori words: the Polynesians would be much happier with Lego's idea if the company had actually mentioned the Polynesian origin of these names. But they didn't. Take nice-souding words and just pretend they were born out of the genius of your marketing department.

    You were talking about Disney movies; I wonder how many Americans think that Walt Disney actually invented Snow-White and Cinderella...

    ("What, you mean, he didn't ?")

    Thomas Miconi
  • Britney spears will sue Mattel because they did not ask her permission before creating a woman with fantastically large plastic breasts.
  • by carlhirsch ( 87880 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:38PM (#182945) Homepage
    I dunno about you, but if I were a member of an indigenous people which had been decimated in the past couple of centuries by various effects of European contact, I'm not sure I'd want some Danish toy company commodifying my identity either.

    -carl
  • A person does not dress up like a police officer and walk down the street, that's most likely to be illegal where you live (It sure is here).

    We're not talking about impersonating police officers, or Maori. We're talking about a doll; a likeness. It's not illegal to make dolls of police officers, and nobody is talking about impersonating Maori.

    Ignorance.

    Fine; I'm ignorant and you've educated me well. It's been a while since I was last in NZ.

    So you're telling me that the Maori have plenty of representation in the government, you're doing fine on the land confiscation issue, and the preservation of your culture through educating ignorant Pakeha like me, both locally and on the other side of the planet, is going well.

    Sounds like you're doing great, overall. I'm truly happy to hear that, no sarcasm. Remind me, then, what exactly the problem is with a toy company making dolls and toys with a Polynesian likeness and theme?

    TomatoMan
  • by TomatoMan ( 93630 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:56PM (#182948) Homepage Journal
    I dunno about you, but if I were a member of an indigenous people which had been decimated in the past couple of centuries by various effects of European contact, I'm not sure I'd want some Danish toy company commodifying my identity either.

    I know I feel pretty commodified by the Ken doll.

    OK, I'm being facetious, and since I'm at the top of fhe food chain, I can only say so much. But this whole thing is patently ridiculous and I'm not the slightest bit worried about it becoming a reality. Once you start down that slippery slope, where do you stop? Are we allowed to TALK about Maoris without infringing on their culture? Write about them? Where's the line? It's absurd. It's a short step from here to banning black Barbies. Why? What is gained by doing that?

    Your identity is not compromised when someone makes a doll that looks like you. Surely Maoris have more important battles to fight than this one. How about seeking more representation in the NZ parliament? How about addressing questions of land confiscation? How about preserving Maori language and culture through sharing and outreach, rather than trying to establish a stamp of unenforceable "ownership" over whatever incredibly vague notion of "likeness" they're trying to tie this thing to?

    TomatoMan
  • > They used *our* culture without our permission, and portrayed it in a negative and untrue light.

    Whoa. When did this happen? I thought everybody used a 3D virtual reality interface when connecting to a foreign computer with an entirely different architecture over a dialup connection . . .
  • by Kreeblah ( 95092 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:35PM (#182950)
    Let's sue Matt Groening for creating an American culture-themed TV show without the express permission of the U.S. government . . .
  • As a geek I should be consulted and compensated. I will also sue major hollywood studios for the portrayal of geeks in film, because it infringes on my intellectual property rights to geek language and culture.


    Make sure that you also get an apology for The Net and Hackers, and for the technical abomination known as Mission Impossible. 686 RISC chip powered Apple laptop my ass.
  • by Infonaut ( 96956 ) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:59PM (#182953) Homepage Journal

    All the blather about colonial exploitation aside, wouldn't you be pissed if someone tried to trademark a word or idiom from your culture?

    "Now introducing 'Dude'(tm), the linguistic innovation from Microsoft, the company that also brought you 'Buddy'(tm), 'Radical'(tm), and 'Gnarly'(tm)!!! Don't worry, you can still use these words in your head, in dreams or other thoughts, but if you use them in any written or oral form, you'll have to pay us a small usage fee."

  • by gargle ( 97883 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @10:37PM (#182954) Homepage
    If companies can trademark phrases and logos, why can't cultures trademark and protect their phrases and tatoos?
  • The article presents the information as though it is equally invasive of some "generic" Polynesian culture. I'd like to point out that I'm from New Zealand, and most of the words quoted in the article are actually specific Maori words. The Easter Islanders share a very similar language despite massive geographic difference, as they share a probably-similar expansion point from the ancestral central Polynesian point, believed to be the Marquesas Islands by most scholars.

    What I'm pointing out here is that, at best, a few cultures have been ripped off. At worst, one has been completely. I don't really believe that the Maori or Easter Islanders have any more right to restitution from the Danes than do the people of Scotland for what the Americans have done with Braveheart or Rob Roy, but I do believe that at least some measure of homage is warranted in all these cases. Presumably local economies benefit when films are made in their areas* which would do alot to quell protests in most Hollywood productions. One wonders how the American Indians feel about the wholesale ripoffs of their culture that have been going on for a hundred years, however.


    *Though I don't know where the Scottish films were made

  • by clem.dickey ( 102292 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:38PM (#182962)
    The submittor should have read the article more carefully.
  • Well, most of Slashdot's readers are probably American, where the concepts "considering suing" and "are suing" actually are equal.
  • Where did you read this? The article mentions nothing about it. The case is even more ludicrous when you realize that the Maori's threatened suit rests almost entirely on these similar words. Take a look at bionicle.com [bionicle.com]: the game is about an island "at some distant point in the future", populated by what look like some sort of mutant, mask-wearing cyborgs. So the law-suit is about Lego's taking particular elements of maori culture? The estate of J.R.R. Tolkien is screwed (theft from Norse and Anglo-Saxon traditions), then, as is National Geographic (theft from pretty much everybody to sell their nifty magazine).

    Of course, the sad thing is, there seems to be enough precedent. "Senet", the name of an ancient Egyptian board-game, is a registered trademark of some gaming company ('course, they don't have to worry about lawsuits....).

    Absurd! This is Absurd!

  • Is you would support suing anyone who makes a fingerpainting of the Mona Lisa? Besides which, this is a GAME, not an educational tool, and it apparently has to do with cyborgs.

    The only "intuitive" interface is the nipple. After that, it's all learned.
  • by StevenMaurer ( 115071 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:42PM (#182971) Homepage

    Again this is just a few lawyers trolling using the court system.

    Remember you can file just about any suit you want. It's not getting it laughed out of court that's the hard part.

    Culture is the quintessence of "public domain". This will go nowhere fast, unless LEGO decides the 'bad publicity' is more costly than just giving in.

  • by g8oz ( 144003 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:39PM (#182987)
    They are suing because Lego is trademarking Maori words for use in the game. Sheesh.
  • by Picass0 ( 147474 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:42PM (#182989) Homepage Journal

    I'll sue this website on the basis they have created a geek-theme website without my permission. As a geek I should be consulted and compensated.

    I will also sue major hollywood studios for the portrayal of geeks in film, because it infringes on my intellectual property rights to geek language and culture.

  • for taking our posts and compiling them into a book; how the Hell can New Zealand sue Legos for anything?
    ---
  • So if created/written/composed by literate western man it deserves protection, if created by illiterate eastern tribe "it belongs to humanity"?
  • by lim-bim-tim-wim ( 155248 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @04:18PM (#182994)
    I know I feel pretty commodified by the Ken doll.

    The "indians" of north america felt the same when bundled up, have money thrown at them and in general forgottern by the invaders from Europe(Funny, I had relatives on the Mayflower). Owww.. what? Did I say invader? Yeah invader, I mean it. Look up invasion in a dictionary, sounds a bit like colonisation doesn't it? That's how we feel sometimes.

    Your identity is not compromised when someone makes a doll that looks like you.

    That's not the Maori take on things. Those tats on their face are almost like rank marks. A person does not dress up like a police officer and walk down the street, that's most likely to be illegal where you live (It sure is here). Why? If everyone did it, we wouldn't know a real cop from a fake one. They are marks ARE our culture. The stories are our culture. It's seeping away, and we want to protect it. Some children don't even know a few Maori myths or traditions and the language is faltering. Lego toys arn't the way to educate a child about culture. They are, however, excellent creative outlets, I have heaps of the stuff from when I was younger :-). I digress, the fact is we need to re-enforce our culture is it's original and un-fucked-up by crappy interpretations (Read: Western. See: Dances with Wolves (Utter crap), Braveheart (Yeah right) + any hollywood interpretation of an old story brought down to modern 30sec attention spans).

    Surely Maoris have more important battles to fight than this one.

    Yeah, ignorance. The word is "Maori", not "Maoris", there is no word "Maoris", the plural of "Maori" is "Maori".

    How about seeking more representation in the NZ parliament?

    Ignorance. The Maori are currently over represented in Parliament. The Maori are granted special dispensation. And the proportional voting system also helps. It is slightly un-democratic, but hey, looking after those at bottom of the pile has kinda been the way for a long time now. The Maori seats have existed since god knows when in the NZ parliament. BTW - Don't tell a Kiwi how to run a representational democracy, we have been doing it longer and in my opinion, better, than anybody else.

    How about addressing questions of land confiscation?

    Ignorance. We have been doing this better than anybody else for quite some time now, see the Waitangi Tribunal website [knowledge-basket.co.nz]

    How about preserving Maori language and culture through sharing and outreach, rather than trying to establish a stamp of unenforceable "ownership" over whatever incredibly vague notion of "likeness" they're trying to tie this thing to?

    I support the introduction of compulsory teaching of Te Reo (The Maori language) at school. I hope this becomes law, it probably will in the next few years. I welcome it because I never really had the opportunity to learn. I could learn it now that I am at university, but I'm up to my eyeballs in Biology.. You might want to see This document [knowledge-basket.co.nz] concerning how we feel about protecting our culture, in this case, a recommendation was made that Te Reo was made an official language of New Zealand. It has been an huge boost to the culture.

  • For any of this to pay off in court, should this crazy convention come to pass, the system will have to find a way to decide what a legitimate culture IS. That's going to be a sticky legal question for sure. Will hackers, goths, ham radio operators, crack heads or Yuppies have any control over the representation of their culture? Probably not.

    It's all gonna suck anyway.

    Anyone else think this article should have had a more informative/alarming title? I almost didn't click on "who owns your culture," but I have no life.
  • Once I read a very insightful comment somewhere online. It was:

    To share a common future, we all need to give up a little of our past.

    It's the people who aren't willing to give anything up who are spoiling it for the rest of us. I will never understand people who are so savagely protective of their ethnicity. Having an identity is GREAT, sure, but you also have to fit into a SOCIETY FULL OF DIFFERENT PEOPLE. This involved COMPROMISE.

    Maybe I just don't get it because I am another white-descended American, an orphan of a bankrupt culture. (as Hans said in Die Hard... doh, I just proved my cultural bankruptcy, I used a Bruce Willis movie reference!)
  • Can you imagine the reaction if there were two guaranteed spots for whites?

    We grapple with the same problems in the states. It is interesting for me to read about this in another country. FWIW I am with you, I think those policies taint the accomplishments of the people they are trying to protect.

    In much of the US there is also a very weird stigma about white culture. The vocal and organized racist groups we have like the Ku Klux Klan sure don't help matters of course...

    Anyway, where I grew up, in Southern California (a place where non-whites are the majority of the population), there was simply no way to express any kind of 'white pride' or interest in the culture of your European ancestors. As a testament to my conditioning, I am actually cringing as I type the words 'white pride' again. In high school there was a club for every ethnicity you could think of, except any white ones. A fascinating double standard. (not like I even care about the culture of my white ancestors personally, but I dislike those kind of double standards.)

    I recently moved to Seattle, in Washington State. Unlike LA, nearly everyone here is white -- which is extremely strange for me. Even weirder, there are symbols of European culture all over the place... I see freaking Swedish flags hanging from supermarkets, and I think I even heard Swedish being spoken out in public. This sort of thing did NOT happen in SoCal, and I am in an extreme state of culture shock. The only place I ever saw a Swedish flag in Los Angeles was on a Volvo repair shop, where it still looked exotic.

    If saying that this situation is wrong makes me racist, then f%$# it, I'm a racist, and proud of it.

    It makes you clear-thinking. And if saying THAT makes ME racist, I'll see you in hell, pal.
  • Lego did not trademark those words.

    Somebody just made a stupid movie this year called "Dude, Where's My Car?". Does that lock up the trademark on the word "dude"? Nope.

  • by RedWizzard ( 192002 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @03:01PM (#183009)
    IAANZ (I am a New Zealander). NZ was just about the last country to be invaded/colonized by Europeans, the founding document (the Treaty of Waitangi) was signed just over 150 years ago. That document give the Maori people unparalleled rights. Far less oppression of the indigenous people occured in NZ than, for example, America or Australia. I'm not saying everything was rosy, though. There were land wars fought, and dodgy purchases of land (large tracks of land for some blankets and a few muskets type of thing). But the NZ government has made a genuine effort to provide restitution in the form of money, land, and rights granted to the various Maori tribes. Basically a tribe who feel they have a claim on something can voice that claim under the Treaty of Waitangi and the government will consider it. Some of these claims have been quite controversial, for example the land occupied by one of NZ universities was claimed and granted, claims have been made on radio and TV frequencies (sold to the tribes at a reduced rate), a big chunk of offshore fishing rights (granted), land which just happens to be occupied by large powerstations (not granted).

    The point I'm trying to get to is that some Maori tribes have got into a habit of making claims on property not because they were cheated out of it by colonists but because that property is now comercially valuable. In the Lego case three tribes from the northern part of NZ are making these claims and if I were feeling cynical I'd say it's because they think they can get some money out of Lego. AFAICS Lego are not stealing or commodifying anyone's identity, they are just using a couple of Maori/Polynesian words (nothing specific to the Maori language at all) in a ficitional game. Here [smh.com.au] is an article from the Sydney Morning Herald which has specific details of the usage of the words in the game.

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/0106/01/text/world13.ht ml

  • Maybe now Robert Johnson can sue the RIAA for all the artists who have ever ripped off the blues to make commercia rock n roll.

  • Children are growing up right around us without a clear sense of history because of all the 'tales for children' that exist to make learning easier. We don't pass along cultural identity to our descendants by showing them finger-paintings of the Mona Lisa (well, not usually). Why should we be bothered that the Maori would like to prevent that from happening to them?

    We also don't try to sue artists that fingerpaint the Mona Lisa, do we?
  • Words and images etc. already in common use - in any language - are not copyrightable and that's that. You can't claim copyright retroactively.

    ObNitPick... you mean they aren't "trademark-able." You automatically own the copyright for any original "work" you create. But a trademark must be applied for specifically...
  • I'm a little confused as to what the Slashdot party line is here:
    • If a culture cultivates or uses a certain plant, it should have rights to any derivative or research created by pharmaceutical or agritech companies. For instance, a cardiac drug that is a less toxic, more effective variant of a compound in a psychoactive plant used in a culture's ceremonies is the property of that culture. (We'll also repeat falsehoods about how patents can then bar the culture from continuing to use or cultivate traditional crops.)
    • Drugs or tests influenced by patient studies belong to the patients. If a diabetes susceptibility gene is identified in Pima Indians who consented to participate in a study, a therapy targetting that gene should belong to the tribe.
    • But selling a product based on the culture that these people actively created, that's fine!
    Really, this sounds like different rules apply when Lego, computer games or other fun things are involved. Sort of like how the whole "Free! Open source! RMS! Napster! Gimme! Gimme!" line gives a games a total exemption from criticism. Hey, games are important.

    Unsettling MOTD at my ISP.

  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @01:03PM (#183019) Homepage Journal
    Then Disney Co. better start hiring lawyers left and right, as they've coopted any number of cultures in their films and other media.

    --
    All your .sig are belong to us!

  • by lupa ( 218669 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @01:03PM (#183020)
    but where does *education of children* fit into this discussion of intellectual property? lego has done something good, in my opinion - they've created something at least *vaguely* culturally accurate to portray a Maori or Polynesian group. children who play with these legos won't think of Polynesian cultures as the grand 'other'... this is quite unlike Hollywood, or other groups that mangle culture to fit whatever story they're doing.
  • by JohnTheFisherman ( 225485 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:54PM (#183024)
    A cartoonish representation of practically every culture known to man, and deep, deep pockets. I'll bet some lawyers in Vegas are salivating right now....
  • Ridiculous? You bet. But it's just one example of the kind of thing the Hague Convention could make possible.
    The Maori are upset because their culture is being sold on the open seas, and soon to be even sold in their own country!

    I can think of many people who would be pissed if all of a sudden Lego started making Jesus Legos and games, horribly botched the story, and then claimed their product was "made up in Denmark without reference to any particular culture."

    These people are fighting the "monetizing" of their entire lifestyle. When people stand up to Microsoft, its heroicism (or insanity), but when somebody fights the gross overgeneralization of their religion, thats ludicrous.

    On another note, the CNN story also features the classic "hole in the satellite picture:" the Maori believe that Lego is allready taking steps to trademark their own culture. This [stuff.co.nz] story covers the other side pretty well, but its a shame that neither story was written by a good journalist, who would be objective enough to cover both side's concerns. [guardian.co.uk]

  • by joshyboy ( 237516 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:35PM (#183036)
    Troll Alert:
    All your culture are belong to use

    Thank you for your time.
    --
  • by 3prong ( 241218 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:50PM (#183037)

    Yeah, but Lego's lawyers are taken apart each night to be stored in large Tupperware(tm) containers. Hard to win against that kind of thing.
  • If the Maori are paranoid about their culture/tattoos/language, could it be because they feel they are not treated with respect by the rest of the world?

    Not that it's anyone's dream to be colonized and overrun by Europeans, but as such things go, the Maori have it pretty darn well off.

    Rather than being subjugated, they signed a peace treaty with the British - which the British actually more or less adhered to, because their attempts to conquer the Maori by force were not exactly wildly successful.

    Today, Maori is a national language in New Zealand, taught in all schools, and available for use in all official transactions. There isn't another place on earth that can say that (okay, maybe Paraguay). Maori are far more a part of the mainstream society in terms of social and political influence as well as economic participation than the Aborigines in Australia or the Native Americans in the USA and Canada.

    My guess here is that you have a relatively small group of silly people who've decided to try to make news, not some major mass movement fueled by widespread righteous outrage.

  • by El Camino SS ( 264212 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:43PM (#183046)
    Looks like the price of Civilization III just went up, A LITTLE BIT.
  • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:48PM (#183052) Journal
    Cro-Magnon spokesman Korg has issued a press release stating that the Cro-Magnon are suing Blue Seude for infliction of emotional distress.

    Their suit, Korg contends, stems not from the repeated use of the phrase "Ooga-Chaka", but from the tens of thousands of hours of airplay afforded to "Hooked on a Feeling? one of the worst songs ever recorded. The Cro-Magnon claim that this threat to human survival affects their 70,000-year-old culture the most, and is amplified by their innate susceptibility to the introductory refrain. They concluded that the effect is deliberate, according to the release.

    Also named in the suit are several hundred radio stations, '70s-night disco bars, and Cher ("just for the hell of it", said Korg).

    --Blair
  • Whatever happened to things like parody, or "fair use" -- i surprised the scientologists haven't sued paramount yet for Star Trek.

    ...or have I said to much ;)

  • BTW, The "Americans" have nothing to do with this. Lego is based in Denmark, and the toys haven't even been sold yet in the US. If you haven't figured it out yet, New Zealand citizens aren't generally Americans either.

    This brings up a good point. Which country would they sue in? Lego has yet to sell the sets in New Zealand, and may never choose to. What would New Zealand courts care about about what a Danish company sells in Denmark?

  • "I'm not sure I'd want some Danish toy company commodifying my identity either."

    OK, but what gives the Maori the right to try to control ALL Polynesian culture? Polynesians are all over the Pacific Ocean, and they're not all a part of New Zealand. Heck, a good deal of them live in the US (Hawaii and assorted territories).

    The Maori saying that a generally Polynesian-themed game violates their "copyright" is as silly as the PRC saying that all websites in Chinese must be controlled by the Chinese government.

  • Several well known Perl icons are considering a legal challenge to Seattle software giant Microsoft over the use of Perl Culture in the new Office Enterprise Solution 2001 XP Enterprise XML.

    Linguist, hacker, and perl father, Larry Wall, has written Microsoft asking for sales of the software to be suspended, saying Microsoft's use of perl and several modules like XML::Parser infringed upon the rights of perl hackers everywhere, specifically their rights to their language and culture. "See, the perl culture is like this onion [slices onion]. Microsoft is like this big rotten spot here. See, the onion was in a bag in my basement, and we had a leak a while back. I found this onion on the bottom. Microsoft is like that rot you see there," said Wall in front of a crowded perlmongers group. He then added, "praise Jesus."

    Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, replied, "These guys are idiots. They've got a horrible language that we would never even consider using. Their artistic license is like a tumor growing off that malignant GPL. But what would innovators like Microsoft expect from such amateurs? Keep in mind most of these perl people are fans of that substandard piece of crap called Linux. This Larry Wall guy is off his rocker."

    --

  • I have just a few comments to make...

    First off, after looking at the picture, it's safe to assume they weren't about to make a computer game out of whatever it is they're doing.

    Second, isn't it time we all share our cultures? Didn't anybody tell these people that it's good when people embrace your traditions? 100 years ago we would have given them the big "FREAKS" stamp, taken over their country, and forced them into the casino business or something, no culture for you.

    Of course, maybe I just can't relate, I'm American, it's not like my roots go way back. My family is like german-english-swedish, a collection of the top 3 European assholes in history, maybe I should shut up about culture. What do you other cultureless Americans think? Do we have the right to criticize here?

  • I don't know about New Zealand intellectual property law, but if it's anything like the U.S., then how can a culture & spoken language be construed as intellectual property? Do the native speakers have a patent filed on it? If so, when will that patent expire?

    The purpose of intellectual property law is to provide an incentive to innovate, not to stifle others from using the innovation. That's why there's an expiration for the patent. Furthermore, the patent must be filed within a certain amount of time after the innovation has been announced or put to public use. This amount of time in the U.S. is one year. I suspect that this language/culture has been around longer than that...
  • by Taketoshi ( 456734 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @12:49PM (#183083)
    It's all iffy territory, really. There are folks in the US who get pissed because Disney commodifies traditional western cultural symbols, fairy tales, and works of art (Hercules, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre-Dame), and I know I'm one of them. They don't necessarily blatantly misrepresent something of cultural significance, but they remove many of the 'difficult points' to make it more accessible. Unfortunately, when you do that you often remove a lot of the very subtle but highly important elements of it that you've overlooked in your 'popularization.' Remember, culture IS what it seems to be. Children are growing up right around us without a clear sense of history because of all the 'tales for children' that exist to make learning easier. We don't pass along cultural identity to our descendants by showing them finger-paintings of the Mona Lisa (well, not usually). Why should we be bothered that the Maori would like to prevent that from happening to them? -lit geek on the loose

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