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Friday 29 July 2022

Patricia Covarrubia

Mexico: cultural (mis) appropriation

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Last week, the Mexican Secretary of Culture sent a letter to the company SHEIN asking to clarify the launch of the piece “Flower trim top with floral print” that is identical to a garment designed by the handicraft brand ‘ YucaChulas’.

The statement reads ‘” cultural elements whose origin is fully documented’, which generate economic rewards in the communities that sell them. The blouse, short huipil, was created in the Mayan communities of Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo, and its design would not be possible without knowledge “transmitted from generation to generation, product of the collective creativity of the Mayan people.”’ YucaChulas also went to social media (here) to express their dismay against SHEIN due to the lack of recognition of the work made by local artisans and how plagiarism diminish and devalued their culture. Since then, SHEIN has removed the garment and noted in a statement that it was not their intention ‘to infringe anyone’s valid intellectual property and it is not our business model to do so.’

Photo: El Universal - YucaChulas left; SHEIN to the right

As you know, the protection of cultural expression through intellectual property is a heated debate. And now, WIPO has advanced in this topic – see early publication here. In the meantime, some countries, especially in Latin America, have some kind of legislation that regulates the use of traditional knowledge, but yet there is not clear procedure or enforcement, it seems like just ‘good practice’. However, one must say that the Panama Law No. 20 on the Special Intellectual Property Regime with Respect to the Collective Rights of Indigenous Peoples to the Protection and Defence of their Cultural Identity and Traditional Knowledge, seems a solid one. Others, like Colombia, continues to use Geographical Indications protecting cultural expressions and traditional knowledge, although this protects the product linked to the origin, rather than the product per se. The same strategy is used in Peru, where you will notice several ‘collective marks’. Yet, IP is territorial and these legal tools, used in Panama, Colombia and Peru as examples, only will stop the ‘plagiarised’ product to be sold in their countries, but can continue to sell it in other jurisdictions. [sad]

Read the news at El Universal MX

Patricia Covarrubia

Patricia Covarrubia