Hakuna Matata™? Can Companies Actually Trademark a Phrase Like That?

LONDON — Who wouldn’t like a highly anticipated remake of Disney’s “The Lion King,” starring Beyoncé and featuring a meerkat-and-warthog duo singing a song that includes the now ubiquitous Swahili phrase “Hakuna Matata”?

As of Thursday, almost 100,000 people, and counting.

The phrase means “no worries,” but for Disney, it’s not that simple. Angry about cultural appropriation, tens of thousands of people had signed an online petition that called on the company to drop its trademark of the phrase, which the company filed when the first version of the movie was released more than two decades ago.

“The term ‘Hakuna Matata’ is not a Disney creation, hence not an infringement on intellectual or creative property, but an assault on the Swahili people and Africa as a whole,” the petition reads.

The debate appears to have intensified after a column in the Kenyan newspaper Business Daily noted the “pilferage of African culture over the years, through the use of intellectual property rights.”

“Hakuna Matata” is a common expression in Swahili, a language spoken in a large part of Africa, and it became popular in the West after the original version of “The Lion King” was released in 1994.

Trademark experts said the issue had been blown out of proportion by confusion over intellectual property rights and what the trademark actually entails.

The trademark does not mean that the company owns the phrase, or that it can ban anyone from using it. Disney filed the trademark upon the release of the original movie for clothing or footwear it sells in the United States, as a way to protect itself

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