Maori Angry About Mike Tyson's Tattoo Artist Claiming To Own Maori-Inspired Design

from the ownership-society dept

Well, here's an interesting twist on the lawsuit from Victor Whitmill over the copyright on Mike Tyson's face tattoo. Many people have pointed out that the design appears to be inspired by the Maori, and it appears that Maori tattoo experts think Whitmill doesn't deserve anything at all:
Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, author of Mau Moko: The World of Maori Tattoo, described Mr Whitmill's claims of ownership as insufferable arrogance. "It is astounding that a Pakeha tattooist who inscribes an African American's flesh with what he considers to be a Maori design has the gall to claim that design as his intellectual property," she said.

"The tattooist has never consulted with Maori, has never had experience of Maori and originally and obviously stole the design that he put on Tyson.

"The tattooist has an incredible arrogance to assume he has the intellectual right to claim the design form of an indigenous culture that is not his."
That article notes that a local Parliament member said that it was a "bit rich" for Whitmill to be "moaning about the breach of copyright copied off Maori." Seems like bringing in a Maori tattoo expert would make for an interesting witness if this ever actually goes to trial...

Filed Under: maori, mike tyson, s. victor whitmill, tattoo


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  1. identicon
    Pseudonym, 26 May 2011 @ 7:02pm

    Re: WTF???

    Aside from the factual error (the Warner tattoo is not strictly identical), I think you might be missing some of the background here.

    There is a generally acknowledged understanding that the Berne Convention can't (and admittedly doesn't seek to) cope with the complex issues raised by indigenous cultural expressions. While New Zealand is a signatory to the Berne Convention, the Maori are not, and the Treaty of Waitangi (Article 2) provides that New Zealand must guarantee full "chieftanship" over all "treasures". The Maori word taonga includes both tangible and intangible cultural artifacts.

    There have been several legal challenges in New Zealand against the inappropriate use of Maori traditional knowledge, cultural expressions and genetic resources which have resulted in changes to NZ law.

    Of course, the United States is not a signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi. It is, however, a signatory to a number of treaties with Native American peoples, some of which contain similar provisions (though many of which have been broken beyond repair). Given that it is infeasable for every country to enter into a treaty with every indigenous population on the planet, some kind of global framework is needed. The WIPO is working through the issues as we speak.

    So you may be right that under current law, Mike Tyson's tattoo is copyrighted by the person who did it, but this may only be because current copyright law doesn't deal with indigenous cultural expressions correctly. It would be a manifest injustice if this case were decided incorrectly just because the WIPO is dragging its heels.

    Remember, these Maori cultural experts are not claiming ownership of Mr Tyson's tattoo (though some objected at the time). All they're saying is that the tattooist can't reasonably claim some kind of intellectual property ownership either. Indigenous culture is, generally speaking, not "owned" in the first place.

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