Intellectual property laws require update to protect Māori cultural practices

By Regan Paranihi

There has been a major outcry and backlash from the Māori community regarding the constant misuse of Māori taonga on objects such as beer bottles, paintings and prints by the hands of non-Māori. However, what is intellectual property and how can Māori regain theirs?

From the face of the first Māori King on a Canadian beer bottle to portraits of kaumātua with scribbles, it is a common theme that has shaken the Māori community many times as there are no legal barriers.

"Some of the paintings I've seen that have depicted our tūpuna, they're not really appropriate or culturally appropriate, they're not consistent with kawa and tikanga," says intellectual property rights lawyer Lynell Tuffery Huria (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Ruahine Rangi).

"Therefore, it's really difficult to take action against those artists because our laws don't reflect those tikanga or kawa."

But what are intellectual property rights?

"They give you legal rights to enforce against other parties, our intellectual property laws don't take into account tikanga."

The process to regain authority of culture and tikanga is easier said than done.

"It's expensive to get involved in those types of activities because it does require you to invest in protecting those aspects under the current law, but sometimes what we can do is just set up practices and processes around when and how those images can and can't be used."

Huria says it is time to reassess the current laws to protect Māori customary rights.

"There's a real need to update our laws to take in to account those cultural protocols and practices that we would undertake in a Māori context."

However, she also says Māori need to be a part of educating non-Māori about the importance of our customs.

"The more we can share and educate in a way that will be embraced by non-Māori I think the bigger chance we have of educating and creating the new environment where our tikanga and our kawa will be respected and conformed with."