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Petition calls on Disney to drop 'Hakuna Matata' trademark

The Lion King
Posted at 9:55 AM, Dec 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-19 10:55:57-05

(CNN) -- An online petition is calling on Disney to relinquish its trademark of the Swahili phrase "Hakuna Matata."

The phrase, which roughly translates to "no problems" or "no worries" and is a common expression in parts of eastern and southern Africa, is perhaps best known as a song in Disney's 1994 hit movie "The Lion King."

The company trademarked the expression the same year, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The petition, created by Zimbabwean activist Shelton Mpala, has received more than 50,000 signatures.

Mpala told CNN he started the petition "to draw attention to the appropriation of African culture and the importance of protecting our heritage, identity and culture from being exploited for financial gain by third parties."

"This plundered artwork serves to enrich or benefit these museums and corporations and not the creators or people it's derived from," Mpala said.

Disney has not responded to CNN's request for comment.

Liz Lenjo, a Kenyan intellectual property and entertainment lawyer, disagrees with the petition. Lenjo said Disney "has not stolen anything" and the outrage over the trademark is misplaced. The blame should go to social media for "blowing things out of proportion" Lenjo said.

"The use of 'Hakuna Matata' by Disney does not take away the value of the language," Lenjo told CNN. "East Africans or whoever speaks Swahili worldwide are not restricted from using the phrase."

She added: "The conversation on the internet has been blowing up because of a misconception and misunderstanding around intellectual property law, the ethos behind intellectual property law and the various regimes of protection."

A remake of the "The Lion King" is due for release in 2019.