Maasai’s name and print have long been treated as free-to-use. That stops now. You Have to Pay


The red-checked prints and fine beadwork for which the Tanzania and southern Kenya-based people are known appeared in Thakoon’s womenswear collection right around the same time as Jones’ debut. The group’s signatures found their way onto shirts and trousers by Ralph Lauren, goods bearing Diane Von Furstenberg and Calvin Klein tags, and even on Land Rover cars.

The problem: The Maasai never authorized any of these uses and the group has tired of brands – an estimated 1,000-plus companies, including a handful of multi-national giants, in recent years – "profiting at their expense.” And these profits, according to Light Years Intellectual Property, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization that pioneers public interest intellectual property (“IP”) issues, are sizable; companies have sold billions of dollars of goods that make use of the Maasai’s IP.


Intellectual Property’s founder Ron Layton, who specializes in advising developing world organizations on copyrights, patents, and trademarks, told the Financial Times, “If someone were using Taylor Swift’s image, she would ask for at least 5 per cent [of the retail sales] and she would get it.”

Unlike Taylor Swift’s name and Burberry’s checkered pattern, though, the Maasai’s name and print have long been treated as free-to-use. That stops now.

With the help of Layton, the Maasai have struck their first deal. Koy Clothing, a United Kingdom-based retail company, has agreed to pay a license to the Maasai for garments that make use of Maasai-inspired designs.

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