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Friday, 10 August, 2001, 04:51 GMT 05:51 UK
Copyright laws to protect Maori heritage
Maori haka dancers
Maori seek to defend their cultural heritage
The New Zealand government has come under pressure to pass laws to ensure that Maori people benefit from exploitation of their culture.

The issue has become hotly disputed in recent months.

Maori groups have threatened legal action against the toy firm Lego, which they say copyrighted Maori language and images for use in toys.

Lego denies the allegation, but the case has forced the issue onto the political agenda.

Popular culture

Maori art and culture have become increasingly familiar to people across the world.

This is largely thanks to the success of films such as Once Were Warriors and The Piano.

Now, Maori tattoo artist Inia finds that about 20% of the people who use his service are non Maori.

"This art form is growing and seems to touch people in a similar way wherever you go," he told BBC's World Business Report.

Tiki O'Brien, who runs a design company and an international website promoting Maori artists, has also seen growing demand.

"In the three years that we have been in business I have seen dramatic change," he told BBC's World Business Report.

"I have to turn work away because no one wants to see another McDonalds or another Kentucky Fried Chicken.

"What they want is something that is unique in their country, with a more Maori-specific touch to their branding," he added.

Commercial use?

But as aspects of their culture and design become more popular, questions arise as to how Maori people can profit from commercial applications of their heritage.

John Hackett, an intellectual property lawyer at AJ Park in Auckland, said: "There are a number of situations where there have been misuses of things like the haka war dance. Maoris are concerned about this and are looking at ways that they can stop it."

Michael Cullen
Finance Minister Michael Cullen says the government will act on Maori interests

As the law currently stands, there is no specific indigenous rights legislation.

The Maori concept of ownership is such that the rights carry on in perpetuity.

Under copyright law, the copyright in original artistic works last for 50 years after the death of the author.

New Zealand's finance minister Michael Cullen said the government is taking the issues seriously.

"We've got the bill on trademarks legislation coming up in parliament in the very near future and that will be dealing specifically with the issue of protection of Maori intellectual property through the trademark system."

"So those issues are important and a way of generating the ability for greater economic returns out of Maori culture and Maori tradition," he said.

See also:

31 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Lego game irks Maoris
15 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Copyright campaign targets contracts
07 Jun 01 | Arts
Maori dancers wow Venice
16 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
All Blacks fight to keep haka
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