Scholars concerned after dictionary app sale appears not to benefit Tonga government

    A Tongan-English dictionary app created by an app developer has raised concerns among some Tongan academics.

    Dr Tēvita Ka’ili, Professor of Anthropology & Cultural Sustainability Brigham Young University Hawaiʻi

    The app is a digital version of the Tongan Dictionary written by the late Dr Maxwell Churchward, which was copyrighted by the Tonga Government in 1959.

    As Kaniva Tonga News reported in 2013, new copyright protection was enacted in the kingdom in 2008. This replaced the 1961 copyright regulations, which were based on earlier British laws.

    The app was created by developer Jordan Gardner and is being sold for $4.99 in the Google Play. The Google Play webpage showed the app had been downloaded more than 100 times.

    The Google Store did not provide any detail information about Mr. Gardner.

    Dr Tēvita Ka’ili, a Tongan Professor of Anthropology & Cultural Sustainability at Brigham Young University, Hawai’i, said he sent Mr Gardner his feedback about the number of spelling mistakes in the app.

    He said Gardner was expected to release an updated version of the app.

    Dr Ka’ili said he and some colleagues had also written to Dr Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa, the former Prime Minister of Tonga last year and asked him about the legal status of the app. They also asked Hon Tu’i’onetoa whether Mr Gardner had approached the Tongan Government for a permit to digitise and sell the dictionary. 

    “I believe the people of Tonga should benefit from any revenues collected from the app because the dictionary was owned by the Government of Tonga”, Dr Ka’ili told Kaniva News.

    The academics believed the app should have been created by the Tonga government so that it could generate some revenue for the country.

    Kaniva News contacted Tonga’s Attorney General Linda Folaumoetu’i.

    We asked Folaumoetu’i whether the Government was aware of the app and the monetising of the Tongan language.

    We also asked her if there was any legal obligation for the creator of the app since the dictionary was the intellectual property of the Tongan government. A copyright notice published on the second page of the printed version of the Tongan Dictionary says “© The Government of Tonga 1959”.

     We asked whether this had any effect if somebody had modified the original material to sell in the market.

    “I wish that this app had been created by the Tongan Government so that the money would go to Tonga”, Dr Ka’ili said.


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