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The Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here

Adinkra and Kente Cloth and Intellectual Property in Ghana

2011
Author:

Boatema Boateng

The Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here

The intersection of Western intellectual property law and traditional knowledge in Africa

In Ghana, adinkra and kente textiles derive their significance from their association with both Asante and Ghanaian cultural nationalism. In The Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here, Boatema Boateng focuses on the appropriation and protection of adinkra and kente cloth in order to examine the broader implications of the use of intellectual property law to preserve folklore and other traditional forms of knowledge.

Boatema Boateng’s use of life histories to humanize discussions of law, policy, and the exigencies of modernity is as refreshing as the wide analytical net she casts to include the North American African diaspora and reflect upon key concerns such as cultural nationalism on both sides of the Atlantic.

Kwasi Konadu, City University of New York

In Ghana, adinkra and kente textiles derive their significance from their association with both Asante and Ghanaian cultural nationalism. Adinkra, made by stenciling patterns with black dye, and kente, a type of strip weaving, each convey, through color, style, and adornment, the bearer’s identity, social status, and even emotional state. Yet both textiles have been widely mass-produced outside Ghana, particularly in East Asia, without any compensation to the originators of the designs.

In The Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here, Boatema Boateng focuses on the appropriation and protection of adinkra and kente cloth in order to examine the broader implications of the use of intellectual property law to preserve folklore and other traditional forms of knowledge. Boateng investigates the compatibility of indigenous practices of authorship and ownership with those established under intellectual property law, considering the ways in which both are responses to the changing social and historical conditions of decolonization and globalization. Comparing textiles to the more secure copyright protection that Ghanaian musicians enjoy under Ghanaian copyright law, she demonstrates that different forms of social, cultural, and legal capital are treated differently under intellectual property law.

Boateng then moves beyond Africa, expanding her analysis to the influence of cultural nationalism among the diaspora, particularly in the United States, on the appropriation of Ghanaian and other African cultures for global markets. Boateng’s rich ethnography brings to the surface difficult challenges to the international regulation of both contemporary and traditional concepts of intellectual property, and questions whether it can even be done.

The Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here

Boatema Boateng is associate professor of communication at the University of California, San Diego.

The Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here

Boatema Boateng’s use of life histories to humanize discussions of law, policy, and the exigencies of modernity is as refreshing as the wide analytical net she casts to include the North American African diaspora and reflect upon key concerns such as cultural nationalism on both sides of the Atlantic.

Kwasi Konadu, City University of New York

This fine-grained historical and ethnographic inquiry into the social life of Ghanaian textiles is—quite simply and by several degrees of magnitude—the best study anywhere of how Western tropes of intellectual property fail to grasp the complexity of systems in which the traditional arts are practiced today. It tells a cautionary tale with urgent implications for IP scholarship, and it should be required reading for policy-makers in world capitals and at international organizations.

Peter Jaszi, American University

A thought-provoking investigation into the dynamics of globalization and cultural appropriation.

Technology & Culture

In this truly superb ethnography, The Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here, Boatema Boateng provides one of the richest accounts of cultural production and the legal and artistic conundrums that trouble notions of ownership and alienability. It is probably the best work to date on the relationship between folklore/cultural heritage and intellectual property; it will long be an important read for legal scholars, policy makers, activists, and social scientists interested in legal studies, intellectual property law, globalization, and Africa.

International Journal of African Historical Studies

Boateng skillfully navigates the disciplines of legal studies, African studies, and sociology to examine the application of copyright law to the Ghanaian art forms of adinkra design and kente cloth. I believe anyone interested in exploring the complex interactions and negotiations that occur when laws come in contact with reality will enjoy Boateng’s analysis.

African Studies Quarterly

The Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here

Introduction: Indexes of Culture and Power
1. The Tongue Does Not Rot: Authorship, Ancestors, and Cloth
2. The Women Don’t Know Anything! Gender, Cloth Production, and Appropriation
3. Your Face Doesn’t Go Anywhere: Cultural Production and Legal Subjectivity
4. We Run a Single Country: The Politics of Appropriation
5. This Work Cannot Be Rushed: Global Flows, Global Regulation
Conclusion: Why Should the Copyright Thing Work Here?
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index

The Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here

UMP blog: Examining Ghana's use of intellectual property law to protect adinkra and kente fabrics.

In Ghana, adinkra and kente textiles derive their significance from their association with both Asante and Ghanaian cultural nationalism. In her new book The Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here, Boatema Boateng, associate professor of communication at the University of California, San Diego, focuses on the appropriation and protection of adinkra and kente cloth in order to examine the broader implications of the use of intellectual property law to preserve folklore and other traditional forms of knowledge.