Traditional dresses are highly dignified among Ethiopians. It is very common to beautify traditional dresses with handwoven embroidery designs, locally referred to as Tibeb. Ethiopians wear traditional dresses decorated with handwoven Tibeb patterns also at important occasions such as religious ceremonies, wedding programs, funerals, public festivals and other cultural events.
The market for traditional dresses with Tibeb patterns is so competitive that weavers always need to create new and aesthetically pleasing designs. Although the basics are learned from ancestors, weaving Tibeb patterns requires special skill and creative talent of the weavers.
Recently, exploitation of Ethiopian traditional dresses decorated with handwoven Tibeb patterns for commercial purposes by foreigners is being observed. On the other hand, both the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and other relevant programs and laws of the country recognize that the government should extend protection for the traditional cultures of Ethiopian communities in general and creative works of citizens in particular.
Hence, the article examines whether Tibeb patterns enjoy any legal protection under Ethiopian law. Since Tibeb patterns can be regarded as works of applied art, the article specifically looks into the country’s copyright regime to check if such regime can protect Tibeb patterns. The article contends that the existing copyright system cannot protect Tibeb patterns. At the same time, since Tibeb patterns are tangible form of traditional cultural expressions, the article also looks into the country’s laws to check if they are protected as such. Now again, the article contends that traditional cultural expressions are not protected, and the same is true with Tibeb patterns.
Then, the article concludes with a recommendation that Ethiopia needs to adopt a sui generis system to protect its traditional cultural expressions and accede to the African Swakopmund Protocol aimed at protecting traditional knowledge and expressions in the continent, thereby Tibeb patterns get protection.
Keywords: Tibeb Patterns, Works of Applied Art, Traditional Cultural Expressions, Copyright, Sui Generis