Making money from the Maasai



An article in Bloomberg Business week interested me as an illustration of a meeting of worlds.

Kenyan/Tanzanian Maasai, unaware that their name was being used for marketing by global brands, are planning to take on companies such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein to regain intellectual copyright. 

The revenue made beggars belief:

“Layton [the lawyer representing the Maasai] estimates six companies have each made more than $100 million in annual sales during the last decade using the Maasai name.” says BBW. 

The legal ground is uncertain, and success far from assured; there have been battles fought along similar lines before, with varied success.

“’It’s a nice idea, but if it would work, the French deficit would be gone by asking for royalties on French fries,’ says Seth Siegel, co-founder of the Beanstalk Group, a trademark licensing agency and consultant.”

The Maasai were mostly unaware of the meaning of the vast sums made off the back of their culture. The cost of a Masai (sic) pen, $600, had to be explained to them in terms of cows. Three or four good ones. 

If they were to receive the $10million a year royalties quoted in the BBW article their material requests would be modest. 

“’We’re not going so far as to ask for electricity,’ says Saitoti Oloishiro, 42, a chief from northern Tanzania and one of the Maasai behind the project. ‘That would be a daydream. What we are saying is, we need maybe some water for our families and our animals, a dispensary. We need schools nearby.’” 


1 Lunatic 1 Icepick

It’s been an interesting few days for arguing the limits of online press freedom.

The European Court of Human Rights said in its ruling on Delfi AS v. Estonia that websites must keep tabs on their comments sections too. 

News sites, it appears, and more than just passive conduits and are responsible for both welcome comment and the abusive froth that sometimes accumulates beneath some posts. 

The argument has gone a step further however. Tech website The Verge reports that the owner/operator of website Best Gore, a site famed for its visceral content, has been charged after helping to disseminate a video of a real murder, horrifically entitled 1 Lunatic 1 Icepick. 

The site’s owner, Mark Marek, is to go on trial in Canada. He claims merely to have been passing on the information, and that only by people showing the crime online was the killer brought to justice.

This raises an interesting question: is there any difference between a site like Best Gore showing murder footage and conventional media outlets showing images of war or gruesome gang killings in Mexico? Papers in other countries have stronger stomachs for disturbing images than our own.

Do the limits of the public interest argument stop suddenly at the doors of traditional news outlets? 

If sites are liable for the nature of the content they or users post, this could be seen as damaging to freedom of expression. And what if a site doesn’t post a snuff clip but instead links to it, could it too be on dubious moral ground?