Alleged cultural identity theft by American author

By Te Rina Kowhai

Intellectual Property Lawyer Jenni Rutter says that there may be protections under US Law for a Māori woman whose name and cultural identity has been allegedly stolen and used in a fantasy fiction series by American novelist, Rue. 

It is the latest in alleged instances of cultural misappropriation.

Intellectual Property LawyerJenni Rutter says, "I think this is unique because I've never seen a book taking so many elements of a culutural nature with such extreme insensitivity to be honest, I'm not maori but I read it myself and it was very confronting to see Aotearoa as an imaginery place. I'm all for creative pursuits ecetera but the taking of it with no consultation, no permission given that to me is a bit of an extreme case and you don't see so many of those.."

Despite the Māori language used in the book series, The Chronicles of Hawthorn, it is not protected by copyright. However, according to Rutter it could be a breach of personality rights for Ostick under US law. 

Rutter says, "So people reading the book might think she must have given permission because her name has been used and her persona has been taken and it is not okay to do that without permission especially not in the U.S where that is more recognised."

Ostick says that the author did not seek her permission for her name and cultural identity to be used as the fictional character Mistress Paitangi.

Artist, Paitangi Ostick says, "My name it's a one-off, i'm most probably the only bloody Paitangi in the whole of 'Te Ao' The World, so for me it's a direct link to me. Just the name mistress, mistress means something completely different to me, you're having an affair with someone, that's what mistress means to me."

Ostick has tried several times to make contact with author Rue to no avail. 

"I was just gutted, oh no I don't want my name to be associated with this fictional character. I think I felt deeply mostly about not only my name but the use of the marae as being called a witches coven and I actually said that to her in an email," says Ostick.

According to Rutter, authors such as Rue need to be more informed around intellectual property and what is culturally insensitive.

Rutter says, "So part of it is educating but if we really wanted to have legal means of preventing this type of thing from happening or dealing with it when it does, then we would have to have laws that protect indigenous property and that is a big change in lots of countries are challenged by that, there is no easy answer to that one, but it will be great to see some change though."

Te Kāea has approached both the author and publisher of the book, but are awaiting for comment.

Click below to view Paitangi Ostick's interview on Kawe Kōrero, Friday 19th May.