Culturally Respected but Not Legally Protected: Legal Case Disparities and Intellectual Property Rights In Contemporary Ghanaian Textile Design

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Phea, Gregory

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Located in West Africa, Ghana is a country with a rich history, mesmerizing culture, and a flourishing national economy. It is known for being one of the first African countries to gain independence from British colonial rule, and has since become a model for political stability and economic development in the region. In addition to a diverse mix of traditional customs, Ghana's culture boasts a historic and globally recognized heirloom. The Kente is a colorful premium woven African cloth native to Ghana. The cloth symbolizes Ghanaian national pride and unity, cultural identity, and Asantehene royal heritage. Consumers and cultural artifact collectors worldwide have been willing to pay a high-end price for its authentic form for decades. However, because of its esteemed reputation and lucrative market potential, the Kente cloth and Adinkra symbols have been subject to severe misappropriation by third-party producers since around the 1990s. These two cultural products are vital in supporting a small but nationally significant portion of Ghana’s GDP and tourism trade exports. Thus, while Ghanaian clothmakers have held somewhat resilient considering the rapidly increasing presence of counterfeits within and beyond the country’s borders, the textile industry is nearing the verge of collapse. Equally important, Kente cloth is in critical danger of soon being viewed as a ‘generic African fabric’ rather than the revered embodiment of the cultural history of Ghana and its prosperous communities. With this understanding in mind, this honors thesis will seek to prevent Kente's ontological and economic death. This work will be reviewing leading Ghanaian intellectual property law scholarship, deconstructing interviews with cultural product experts in the UAE and top legal officials in Ghana, and analyzing firsthand legal insights from in-house copyright counsels and leading public-policy think-tanks to attempt to answer the question: how can Ghanaian clothmakers establish greater cultural product design control, intellectual property (IPRs), and economic justice for themselves amidst the often fraught norms of the global textiles industry? I argue that the answer lies in the 2003 Ghana Geographical Indications Act (GIA) [Act 659].


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