09 May 2021

Ink and Cultural Appropriation

'Whitmill v Warner Bros. and the Visibility of Cultural Appropriation Claims in Copyright Law' by Marie Hadley in (2020) 42(4) European Intellectual Property Review 23-229 comments 

The Māori-inspired tattoo at the heart of the copyright infringement case of Whitmill v Warner Bros. has attracted allegations of cultural appropriation in Aotearoa/New Zealand. An examination of the Māori cultural appropriation claim that surrounds the tattoo and its invisibility throughout the Whitmill v Warner Bros. legal proceedings, shows how the legal system does not receive Indigenous cultural claims over the cultural imagery and arts styles that inspires outsider imagery as an intellectual property interest.

Hadley's 'Historical Contingency of Cultural Appropriation: Government Order No. 7 (1831) and the Trade in Mokamokai' in (2021) 8(1) Law & History explores 

the historical contingency of cultural appropriation. A close study of the trade in preserved tattooed Māori heads (‘mokamokai’) and the law that regulated the trade between Aotearoa New Zealand and New South Wales – Government Order no. 7 (1831) – is used to reflect upon the nature of intercultural consumption. The conditions under which the retail trade in mokamokai developed and thrived are considered. It is argued that the historical demand for mokamokai is characterised by an oppressive appreciation of cultural difference, and the trade’s supply by Māori revealing of local agency and political acumen. Studying the production, consumption, and regulation of culture in a specific historical site offers insight into the intersection of commercial imperatives, problematic social dynamics, and local practices, furthering understanding of cultural appropriation as a form of unauthorised cultural engagement.