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From The University of Minnesota Press
The Copyright Thing Doesn't Work Here
Adinkra and Kente Cloth and Intellectual Property in Ghana
By Boatema Boateng
224 pp. / 5.5 x 8.5 / 2011
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The intersection of Western intellectual property law and traditional knowledge in Africa.

"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

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.

About Boatema Boateng

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

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