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Maasai Music on iTunes?

According to Wired, the Maasai people are taking the first step to copyrighting their tribal tunes and twirls. The World Intellectual Property Organization, or the WIPO, gave the East African tribe a “laptop, camera and digital recorder” worth $11,000, believing the idea to be a “huge potential for communities to record, archive and also draw income from their cultural richness.”

The Maasai are as much a part of East Africa as the Serengeti or Mt Kilimanjaro, and their tribal music has been used for song samples, beats, audio recordings and even film scores (think Out of Africa) without any compensation. That doesn’t even breach all the dance performances, photographs or documentaries.

If it works, could fancy tourist hotels in Kenya have to start paying royalties to the Maasai for the “Lion Hunting Dance” they use to attract guests? After all, who would want stay there if they were dancing the Macarena?  Or if the price of licensing a traditional Maasai dance routine were to rise, imagine the artistic director of Carnegie Hall flying a hunting party from the Ngorogoro Crater straight to the stage, then trying to convince them not to kill the “lion” because it’s just an unfortunate guy in a really lifelike costume.

I may be getting carried away according to the article: “While cultural expressions themselves cannot be owned… digital recordings of them could eventually produce valuable royalties for the Masai people who control their distribution.”

In that vein, imagine all National Geographic photographers as their subjects’s next-hut neighbor. Indeed, the world is changing…

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