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Disney faces 'robbery' claim over 'Lion King' trademark


Roaring success: The 1994 film ‘The Lion King’ was a massive box-office hit

Roaring success: The 1994 film ‘The Lion King’ was a massive box-office hit

Roaring success: The 1994 film ‘The Lion King’ was a massive box-office hit

Disney has been accused of "colonialism and robbery" for trademarking the Swahili phrase 'hakuna matata' - made famous worldwide by the film 'The Lion King'.

More than 60,000 people have signed a petition demanding that the Hollywood giant drops commercial rights to the words.

Hakuna matata means "no worries" or "no problem" and was the title of a song, written by Elton John and Tim Rice, for the film. The song was nominated for an Oscar.

Disney's plans to release a remake of the film next year, featuring the voices of Beyoncé and British star Chiwetel Ejiofor, has led to the protest campaign.

Shelton Mpala, a Zimbabwean activist who started the petition, said: "I liken this to colonialism and robbery, the appropriation of something you have no right over.

"Imagine, if we were to go that route, then we owe the British royalties for everyone who speaks English, or France for when we speak French. Disney can't be allowed to trademark something that it didn't invent."

The petition says: "Join us and say NO to DISNEY or any corporations or individuals looking to trademark languages, terms or phrases they didn't invent."

According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, Disney first applied to trademark the phrase in 1994, when 'The Lion King' came out, and was granted rights to it in 2003.

That trademark is still active and means Disney can sue other companies that use it on a T-shirt or other merchandise. It cannot sue people for using the phrase in speech.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, a Kenyan professor at the University of California, called Disney's appropriation of the words "horrifying".

He said: "It would be like trademarking 'good morning' or 'it is raining cats and dogs' in the case of English. It's a common phrase. No company can own it."

Liz Lenjo, a Kenyan intellectual property lawyer, disagreed.

She said: "The use of 'hakuna matata' by Disney does not take away the value of the language. East Africans, or whoever speaks Swahili worldwide, are not restricted from using the phrase."

Disney had no immediate comment on the controversy yesterday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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