I received a very interesting comment on my last post regarding legal protection of Haka – Maori traditional dance. Mike McGawin from Windy Hilltops blog expressed a very interesting point of view on this issue. I would like to post Mike’s comment as a separate post so more of my readers would notice it. Personally I tend to agree with many of what Mike says but not everything.
I know it may not be the popular opinion (esp in NZ), but somehow this whole thing just feels wrong to me. Copyright infringement isn’t stealing and it shouldn’t be confused with stealing. It’s copyright infringement. (i.e. If you make a copy of my writing, I still have it… as opposed to if you steal my pen and paper then I no longer have either of them.) Copyright law was designed for a specific purpose to do with promoting creativity by giving creators a temporary monopoly, and it’s supposed to expire so that other people can continue to build on existing creative works for the benefit of everyone. It’s not supposed to protect information forever, though a few large media studios would love it if it did, and are happy to buy off as many lawmakers as they can to try and achieve this.
But what I’m very uncomfortable about is that some Maori people are doing this with the intent if preventing people from “mis-using” the haka. That’s not what the semantic idea of copyright is supposed to be for. Without even having had any sort of arrangement or contract or treaty with nearly anyone except the British Crown, the intent seems to be to somehow try and leverage a legal technicality throughout the world that has nothing to do with what Maori people actually want. I don’t think Maori people should be allowed to control how French people mock New Zealand any more than I think French people should be allowed to control how New Zealanders mock France. I can’t imagine how it’s actually going to work or reliably hold up in the long term. If it’s possible to protect the haka through copyright then I suppose there must be some kind of legal technicality, but by any copyright laws I understand, any copyright on Ka Mate should have expired well over 100 years ago!
I sympathize that some people may find it discomforting when others satirize or misrepresent their culture and beliefs, but I do think it’s important to be able to take it on the chin and just accept that not everyone will respect you. Outside NZ people get so riled up that they fight wars and kill each other over others satirizing their beliefs and ideals. We’re fortunate that we live in a relatively peaceful country and I’m certainly not trying to imply that any Maori people would ever go so far, but in my opinion trying to suppress satire shouldn’t be acceptable when it can simply be ignored. It’s part of free expression and it goes both ways for mutual benefit to everyone. Maori culture will always be what it is, no matter how many times ignorant people perform an embarrassing fake haka in stupid gingerbread costumes. Anyone who wants to learn about the real culture can always find out about it any time they want to.
My two cents.