New Orleans is one of those amazingly unique cities that offers an array of culturally rich traditions and customs. King Cake. Beignets at Café Du Monde. Bananas Foster at Brennan's. Dueling pianos a Pat O'Brien's. A leisurely lunch at the Court of the Two Sisters. Listening to the Wild Tchoupitoulas. But the New York Times article, "Want to Use My Suit? Then Throw Me Something" brings something a little extra to the intrigue for those interested in copyright in The Big Easy. New Orleans is known for its parades and extravagant costumes. But what many members of certain tribes are now concerned with is the commercial exploitation of their traditions and costumes with no return. In this case, the article focuses on a tribe that is tired of having photographs that are taken of them in public show up on calendars, posters and prints, without reaping any of the rewards.
Though not discussed in the article, this issue is often referred to as Traditional Cultural Expressions (TCE), or Folklore, and is becoming a bigger issue around the globe as for-profit companies use cultural imagery/voice/dance traditions to promote a product and the culture receives no benefit (or even a damaging effect). TCE is being discussed on different levels around the globe and is being approached at the UNESCO and WIPO levels....with few agreeing on anything. Much of the copyright issue builds into the creation of derivative works, and who owns what portion of a culture, and what is the value. For example, let's say an automobile manufacturer in Europe creates a TV advertisement incorporating dance steps from a South American Indian tribe, costumes from a North American Indian tribe, and traditional music from a specific region in China. Who owns these cultural expressions? Does anyone? If someone does, how is permission received? How is a price negotiated? Who gets what? Is it acceptable to one culture to have their traditions collaged / integrated with those of other cultures that may be in conflict? How do you authenticate what comes from which tribe, and how is the money split? You get the picture. It's complicated. It will be years before, if ever, this issue is resolved. In the meantime, Traditional Cultural Expression is just one more piece of New Orleans to be aware of, and to appreciate, at SLA 2010, 13-16 June.