Disney May Face Lawsuit Over "Hakuna Matata" Trademark

"Hakuna Matata" may mean no worries, but it's starting to seem like the phrase is anything but worry free for Disney. Kenyan band Them Mushrooms is reportedly seeking legal action against Disney over the phrase.

According to Hot New Hip Hop, the band is exploring their legal options when it comes to "hakuna matata" as it relates to Disney's trademark. While many associate the phrase with Disney's 1994 animated classic The Lion King, Them Mushrooms assert that they popularized the phrase first in their song "Jambo Bwana" which also uses the Swahili phrase.

"Disney’s first registration, as we've come to learn, was in 1994," front man John Katana said. "This is 14 years after we had first recorded the song. This song went platinum in the country. This is our national tourism anthem in Kenya. We were a bit surprised, you know, because we said, 'Hey, these guys are have taken our phrase, but they changed the tune."

Should Them Mushrooms actually take Disney to court over the phrase, it could be a complex situation as they are not alone in their issues with Disney's trademark of the term. Shelton Mpala, an activist form Zimbabwe, recently launched a petition asking Disney to abandon to trademark of the phrase, accusing the company of cultural appropriation, going so far as to compare the trademarking of the phrase to being "colonialism" and "robbery".

"Hakuna Matata has been used by most Kiswahili-speaking countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo," the petition states. "Disney can't be allowed to trademark something that it didn't invent."

While Mpala himself is not a Swahili speaker, he told the BBC that the trademark issue is just another example of Africa being "exploited in some shape, fashion or form." He's not the only one who feels this way. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, a Kenyan writer and professor of comparative literature at the School of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine recently told NPR that he is "horrified" by Disney's claim on the phrase.

"It would be like trademarking 'good morning' or 'it is raining cats and dogs' in the case of English," Thiong'o said. "It's a common phrase we use every other day. No company can own it."

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As for why these concerns over "hakuna matata" are arising now, that's perhaps the most uncomplicated part of the issue. Disney recently released the teaser trailer for the live-action re-imagining of The Lion King and as the film's July 19, 2019 release date gets closer -- and once it’s in theaters -- it's very likely that the phrase will again be popular, potentially appearing on merchandise for the film that, as Disney currently holds the trademark, would mean quite a bit of revenue.

What do you think about this latest controversy over "hakuna matata"? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.