Disney is copping criticism for its trademark of the East African phrase “hakuna matata” from the film The Lion King.
A petition calling for the company to drop its existing trademark of the Swahili words – because they did not invent the phrase – has been signed by almost 50,000 people.
Although the phrase, which means “no problems” or “no worries” was trademarked by Disney in 1994 – the same year The Lion King came out – its status has only recently come to the attention of the public. It’s thought publicity over the live-action remake may have played a role.
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Petition organiser and Zimbabwean activist, Shelton Mpala, told the BBC that Swahili speakers have been “utterly shocked” to learn a part of their language had been trademarked.
“They had no idea this was happening,” he said.
On Twitter, several people accused the US company of “robbery”, “colonialism” and “cultural appropriation”.
this is blatant robbery that should not be allowed to stand. you don’t have to speak the language to know that this is an egregious theft, one that recalls the way that africa’s precious treasures were looted. please sign this petition!
— dele jegede (@iji_araba) December 17, 2018
Others have pointed out that the phrase was first used as the title of a different song. A decade before Timon and Pumbaa sang “hakuna matata”, it was in the title of a song ‘Kenya Hakuna Matata’ released by Kenyan band The Mushrooms, BBC reports.
However, whether Disney “invented” the phrase, or any other it has trademarked, is not an issue. While trademarking does allow a company or individual to protect their intellectual property, the purpose is to stop others from using the same phrase or logo in business.
For instance, McDonald’s had trademarked both its golden arch ‘M’ and the phrase “I’m lovin’ it”, which means other companies can’t use it. And while Cadbury doesn’t own the particular colour of purple it uses in all its packaging, a UK court found in 2012 it does have trademark protection over it.