What is Cultural Appropriation? In 2017 I wrote an article on bit.ly/lariscafe titled “Nigeria’s Cultural Evolution” and I mentioned Cultural Appropriation as the 3rd stage of our evolution. A stage that led to Cultural Appreciation by Nigerians and Black people in general. The post showed the fact that although Cultural Appropriation seems like a very negative thing, it can lead to some good. In this article I would be shedding light on the Pros and Cons of Cultural Appropriation. You are probably wondering how it can have any “pros” well it would help to read my old post or you could just stick to this article since I’m going to mention the Pros anyway.
What is Cultural Appropriation?
Firstly, Culture is ‘a way of life belonging to a group of people associated by geography, religion, race, ideals and other factors’.
Appropriation, on the other hand, is the act of using or taking possession of something, without permission or consent.
So we can say that Cultural Appropriation is the act of using or taking possession of a way of life belonging to a group of people without permission or consent.
Cultural Appropriation can be perpetrated in two ways. Firstly it is the adoption of elements of a foreign culture without giving credit to that culture; and Secondly it is the adoption of elements of a foreign culture and using it out of context or in a way that diminishes its meaning without the consent of the people.
IS CULTURAL APPROPRIATION AN IMMORAL ACT?
Morality is a very subjective concept. The standard of morality varies across different societies in different geographical locations and personal demographics like religious beliefs. In some cultures a man’s hair should be grown while in others it should be cut off for both Spiritual and Social reasons. It is as simple as that. Every tiny aspect of our lives is governed by certain laws created by us or someone before us, these laws are the foundation of our morality. However, there are universal standards of morality which is why no matter how culturally diverse the world is, there are certain laws that are common to all. These laws do not necessarily have the same punishments or deterrents but they are all agreed to be moral. Examples of such are Laws against Lying and Stealing.
From the definition of Cultural Appropriation we can see that there are elements of lying and stealing in them. Lying in the sense of “not giving credit” (or acknowledging) the creators of the work or tradition and Stealing in the sense of “Using another person’s work without permission”.
So is Cultural Appropriation an immoral act? Yes it is!
WHAT IF THE OWNER’S OF THE CULTURE ARE LETTING IT WASTE AWAY?
Well the fact that I refuse to drive my car gives you no right to steal it. The same logic applies to cultural appropriation. The fact that members of a community are not commercializing their collective intellectual property does not give an outsider any right to use it without permission or credit.
Did you see what I did right there? I put in a caveat. This means firstly that an outsider can use it if (s)he gets permission and gives due credit. Secondly, it seems that these rules do not apply to an “insider”. For real if you think about it, is it Cultural Appropriation if you are a member of the community?
Well I can only answer that after I look at the rules themselves.
IS CULTURAL APPROPRIATION A LEGAL OFFENCE IN NIGERIA?
The Nigerian Copyright Act provides that:
32. “A person who, without the consent of the Nigeria Copyright Council, uses an expression of folklore in a manner not permitted by this Act shall be in breach of statutory duty and be liable to the council in damages, injunctions and any other remedies as the court may deem fit to award in the circumstances.”
It also says:
31. (1) Expressions of folklore are protected against-
(b) communication to the public by performance, broadcasting, distribution by cable or other means;
(c) adaptation, translation and other transformations,when such expressions are made either for commercial purposes or outside their traditional or customary context.
(2) The right conferred in subsection (1) of this section shall not include the right to control-
(a) the doing of any of the acts by way of fair dealing for private and domestic use, subject to the condition that, if the use is public, it shall be accompanied by an acknowledgement of the title of the work and its sources;
(b) the utilisation for purposes of education;
(c) utilisation by way of illustration in an original work of the author: provided that the extent of such utilisation is compatible with fair practice;
(d) the borrowing of expressions of folklore for creating an original work of the author:
(e) the incidental utilisation expressions of folklore.
(3) In all printed publications, and in connection with any communications to the public, of any identifiable expression of folklore, its source shall be indicated in an appropriate manner, and in conformity with fair practice, by mentioning the community or place from where the expression utilised has been derived.
(4) The rights to authorise acts referred to in subsection (1) of this section shall vest in the Nigeria Copyright Council.
(5) For the purposes of this section, “folklore” means a group-oriented and tradition-based creation of groups or individuals reflecting the expectation of the community as an inadequate expression of its cultural and social identity, its standards and values as transmitted orally, by imitation or by other means including-
(a) folklore, folk poetry, and folk riddles;
(b) folk songs and instrumental folk music;
(c) folk dances and folk plays;
(d) productions of folk art in particular, drawings, paintings, carvings, sculptures, pottery, terracotta, mosaic, woodwork, metalwork, handicrafts, costumes, indigenous textiles.”
So, is Cultural Appropriation a Legal Wrong? Yes it is! Section 33 provides for the offence and it’s punishment. However can it be committed by an “insider”? Since the Act does not specify then it is safe to say that legally the rules apply to everybody, Insiders and Outsiders. Also, and most importantly, the consent is not gotten from the community but from the Nigerian Copyright Council. That definitely applies to everyone. My opinion, I think this part should be scrapped out of the Act, but I agree that everyone should be subject to the process of getting consent, just not from the Council but the Community itself.
The above quoted sections seem to only protect Folklore. What’s that? Copyright Act already defined it, go back to Subsection (5) as quoted above. However, it seems to only relate to Literature and Art so here are other aspects of Culture and Tradition that can also be protected by law; Clothing, Architecture, Marks and Tattoos, Recipes, Hair Styles etc. Some of these are protected by other Intellectual Property Laws in Nigeria like the Patent and Design Act and the Trademark Act. They can be registered as collective works, however the scope of collective ownership of Intellectual Property in Nigeria has not been really developed so ‘fingers crossed’ maybe the 2015 Copyright Bill will take care of it.
So, the rule says:
If it’s Folklore, get the Nigerian Copyright Council’s consent and give the community due credit in conformity with fair practice. If it qualifies as a Trademark or Industrial design then a collective license (permission) should be acquired from that community.
Down to the main issue,
WHAT AR E THE PROS AND CONS OF CULTURAL APPROPRIATION?
The Popular African History features the coming of Europeans as a major event and it was mostly about how they came and “stole” our Natural Resources from us. May I, my Lord? May I approach the bench?
Thank you my Lord!
May I dare say that we had no idea what those “natural resources” were, not to talk of
they could be used for. We only discovered their value after the foreigners came. And unfortunately for us, when the foreigners came, they took a lot of it. It’s the same for our intellectual property.
If we don’t use it they would come and pick it all up and make us thank them for it. That’s why any exploitation of our cultures in their business or Media world is usually described as “Putting the Limelight on Africa” Wakanda Forever! Or like the African Americans sometimes say “We’re taking it back to the roots, going to the motherland” LMAO!!!
Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, who knows, when we see them place so much value on these things we suddenly start using them. I guess the “PRO” of cultural appropriation, especially the publicized ones, is that it sends a loud wake-up call around the continent that “Hey! What we have is worth stealing, we might as well use it!”
So yeah that’s the only Pro I can think of and the Cons are “it is Morally and Legally Wrong”.
Now I guess the topic of this article should be “The Pro and Cons of Cultural Appropriation”.
I hope you liked it! If you did, head on to bit.ly/lariscafe to read more of my work and follow me on social media @tj_gaps. I have a podcast too, the link to it is on the bio of my social media accounts (By “accounts” I mean Instagram and Twitter). I am also an Entertainment Lawyer based in Abuja.
DISCLAIMER: This information is only educative, it is not legal or professional advice, for that you should talk to your Lawyer. Cheers!