Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture. Often unavoidable when multiple cultures come together, cultural appropriation can include using other cultures' traditions, food, fashion, symbols, technology, language, and cultural songs without permission. According to critics of the practice, cultural (mis)appropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation, or cultural exchange in that the "appropriation" or "misappropriation" refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner: elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.
Often, the original meaning of these cultural elements is lost or distorted, and such displays are often viewed as disrespectful by members of the originating culture, or even as a form of desecration. Cultural elements which may have deep meaning to the original culture may be reduced to "exotic" fashion or toys by those from the dominant culture. Kjerstin Johnson has written that, when this is done, the imitator, "who does not experience that oppression is able to 'play', temporarily, an 'exotic' other, without experiencing any of the daily discriminations faced by other cultures." The African-American academic, musician and journalist Greg Tate argues that appropriation and the "fetishizing" of cultures, in fact, alienates those whose culture is being appropriated. On the other hand, some scholars argue that the concept is misunderstood by the general public. Cultural appropriation is often misapplied to situations that don't accurately fit.
Conversely, cultural appropriation or borrowing can be viewed as inevitable and a contribution to diversity and free expression. This view distinguishes outright theft of cultural artifacts or exotic stereotyping from more benign borrowing or appreciation. Cultural borrowing and cross-fertilization is seen by proponents as a generally positive thing, and as something which is usually done out of admiration of the cultures being imitated, with no intent to harm them.
Trans-cultural diffusion has occurred throughout history and is subject of study by a variety of academic disciplines, including folkloristics, cultural anthropology and cultural geography. For instance, most of the world have adopted the Hindu-Arabic numerals as the common, standard form of describing numbers, which can be interpreted as a form of cultural appropriation. Opposition to cultural appropriation is seen as controversial as it may clash with the right to participate in culture.