Cultural Copyright and Ethics


Cultural appropriation is the adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity. This can be controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate for disadvantaged minority cultures.

There is a problem when artists appropriate cultural icons of indigenous people. I do not have a problem with the actual idea of recreating or sampling indigenous culture. I believe it can be a great way to teach other people about unique traditions. It is of great artistic value as well as historical. My problem is when there is no dialogue about appropriation. A clear copy of a ceremonial garment, stolen and sold to rich people on a fancy evening IS APPROPRIATION. As a small or big player in the industry, this designer should have the decency to reach out to the people concerned. Not acknowledging the origin of the design and trying to sell it as an original. It is not right. It is stolen. Too much was taken from indigenous tribes across the globe. They deserve to be part of the discussion. To find one’s ancestor’s cultural property duplicated for commerce is an insult to the spirit of indigenous people. If the designer was so much aware of traditional knowledge’s worth, he was able to understand the concept of appropriation. The spiritual nature of the First People’s is not a mystery to anyone.

“How dare you use this garment design that was envisioned by my great grandfather. It’s his design, his vision, it’s so meaningful to him.” 

– SALOME AWA (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

“This is a stolen piece,” Awa told CBC Radio, “There is no way that this fashion designer could have thought of this exact duplicate by himself”. “These are sacred images that they are using,” she adds, explaining that, “They are breaking the Inuit sacred laws of duplicating someone else’s shaman clothing… and for a profit of all things.”

CBC report that Marjan Pejoski has now responded to Awa’s letter, saying that, “Over the last 20 years KTZ has always been inspired by and paid homage to indigenous cultures and tribes around the world. It’s part of KTZ’s DNA to celebrate multiculturalism as a form of art and to encourage appreciation for traditions, ethnicities and religions diversity”.

“We sincerely apologize to you and anyone who felt offended by our work as it certainly wasn’t our intention,” he says, confirming that, “We have already removed the item from sale online and will remove the item in question from our stores”.

Salome Awa has reacted to the apology, telling CBC the feeling is “bittersweet”. “I’m kind of happy about it, but sad at the same time,” she says, “They didn’t even mention an apology to my great-grandfather, they didn’t mention his name… and they didn’t even offer any monetary gains to our family… In terms of, ‘We are so sorry that we’re going to give the money back that we’ve stolen from you,’ is not there”.


I think this controversy could have been avoided if KTZ would have reached out to the people described in the book he stole the design from. Involved them in the creative process and give parts of the benefits to help in the community. I am not too sure how the world can implement copyright on culture. From what I read the United Nations are working on some initiative to protect the heritage of indigenous people. I believe the comprehension of the matter starts with education. I don’t see how it is possible to police everyone in not using traditional icons. Just like it is impossible to police everyone sharing media online. Promoting inclusivity in original projects seems like a good avenue. We are responsible as designers and customers to enforce what is right and condemn what is wrong.

SOURCE: brown Can Culture Be Copyrighted? 197 Culture Reified: Information as a Limited Good

What Is Fair Use?

Fair use is the right to copy a portion of a copyrighted work without permission because your use is for a limited purpose, such as for educational use in a classroom or to comment upon, criticize, or parody the work being sampled.

Factors in determining fair use.

You did not take a substantial amount of the original work (say, ten seconds of a song versus 60 seconds).

  • You transformed the material in some way (for instance, you added new base sounds to a melody).
  • You did not cause significant financial harm to the copyright owner (perhaps you are using a bit of classical music in your heavy metal rock song, which appeals to a different market).

Some people think sampling any music is copyright infringement. The fact that the music is based on recognizable beats or lyrics could be a problem. As long as other artists pay for rights to transform other people’s music it might not be fair use. Maybe a copyright reform is needed. Gillis is using Fair Use as an argument. Current copyright laws give him 3 choices:

-continue doing what he is doing under the fair use argument for as long as possible.

-admit that Girl Talk infringe copyright and continue anyway and face consequence.

-admit to copyright infringement and discontinue his work.

Most of these options might need him to pay an attorney and lose in the long run. Again this situation is hard to police because of the widespread of music piracy. The virtual library of the world is beyond what anyone can grasp.


In this mix we recognize original work from Black Sabbath well used over 60 seconds. Obviously it is copyright infringement. I doubt anyone will suffer financially from this. This is not sampling but a mix of well-known music. To capitalize on other people’s music is a problem. Ozzy and most Sabbath members are still alive (miraculously). It is ultimately up to them to say yes or no. I am sure a lot of artists do not mind if people mix the music. The record labels might. Also many group members could have a different view on the matter. As long as someone will think it’s a problem, the need for copyright laws is essential. Girl Talk’s music surfs back and forth on the line of what is fair use and infringement.

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons (CC) is an American non-profit organization and international network devoted to educational access and expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. The organization has released several copyright licenses, known as Creative Commons licenses, free of charge to the public.


This is an example of the CC licenses. I am likely to use the most free ones in my work. This could change depending on the nature of the projects.


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