“Hymning for India” : cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation.

by viktoriavakratsa

Beyonce’s new collaboration with Coldplay for the song ‘Hymn for the weekend’ remained on the top media posts for quite a while[1]. The reason behind this outrage of publications lies in the concept of cultural appropriation. The Desi adornment (traditional Indian garnements) used by Beyonce during the performance of the song together with the depiction of India’s Holy Festival scenes (Festival of Colours) for the purposes of creating the audiovisual recording constituted the two main claims of cultural appropriation.

The filming of the clip was criticised for wrongly using India and its culture as a background; the depiction of the festival is stereotypical per se. While the Desi traditions have become particularly popular and overly used in other audiovisual works (for example performances by Iggy Azelea, and Selena Gomez), cultural appropriation is becoming a popular topic regarding intellectual property rights protection of traditional knowledge.

The modern IP system provides for a broad palette of sophisticated and flexible tools that allow us “to protect both traditional and new forms of symbolic value produced in particular places as they circulate in global commodity markets”[2]. The rise and spread of global media have only exacerbated this discord, while at the same time significantly raising the economic stakes in protecting traditional knowledge for both the indigenous communities and for its non indigenous, allegedly unlawful, users.

The most relevant, rather than effective, protection mechanism would be copyright, given the worrisome limitations applied including originality, ownership, fixation, term protection. As Macmillan[3] protested the relationship between copyright and culture is more instrumental rather than fundamental; copyright has adopted focuses upon the realisation of future economic value through the promotion of trade in the cultural output.

In fact, WIPO is making efforts to remedy such deficiencies, and provide protection against cultural misappropriation or misuse as an essential corrective for the international community as well as individual nations to undertake[4]. The advantages of delimiting the scope of traditional knowledge for intellectual property are worth by providing the effective criteria to identify the knowledge by resolving any ambiguities; and the basis for adjudicating competing claims for what should or should not be protected by intellectual property[5].

[1] Refer to http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/beyonc-accused-of-cultural-appropriation-in-coldplays-hymn-for-the-weekend-music-video-a6843256.html, http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/35449878/hymn-for-the-weekend-is-being-criticised-for-misusing-indian-culture

[2] M. Burri, 2010, Digital technologies and traditional cultural expressions: a positive look at a difficult relationship, International Journal of Cultural Property, IJCP 33. p5

[3] F.Macmillan, 2005, ‘Commodification and cultural ownership’ in J.Griffiths, and U.Suthersanen (eds) Copyright and Free Speech: Comparative and International Analyses 35,41

[4] S. R.Munzer, and K.Raustiala, 2009, The Uneasy case for Intellectual property rights in Traditional Knowledge. Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal 27, at 37-97

[5] W. B. Wendland, 2002, Intellectual property, traditional knowledge and folklore: WIPO’s exploratory program, International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition Law, IIC 485 . p6