Copyright’s Fair Dealings

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Genesis Pans (GPans) rust in Roland Harragin’s tuning room in Belmont. The steelpan innovation was designed to solve two problems, creating a larger surface for the pan instrument which would create greater physical separation between notes and to create a patentable design that would bring revenue to Trinidad and Tobago. After a 2011 threat of court action, the GPan is not being made and is not being played. It is an idea with no useful physical expression. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

A discussion titled an Introduction to Intellectual Property (IP) and Copyright two weeks ago at Express House turned into a considerable back and forth on the nature of rights management and the peculiarities of its application to Carnival and broadcasting specifically.

Led by Nicholas Gayahpersad, a technical examiner in the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and Dr Emir Crowne, who has at least one PhD in reproduction rights laws, the conversation ranged widely to include local cocoa and music beds under news broadcasts.

Gayahpersad advised that new categories of copyright protection were coming to local law, including such non-traditional marks as taste and sound, which are part of Act 08 of 2015, which is still to be proclaimed and they will need to be supported by testing facilities that are capable of creating enforceable trademark definitions that will hold up to legal challenge.

It’s been decades since the advantages of legacy trademarking became clear, most notably in the fierce protection of the trademark accorded to champagne, which can be created in the specific geographic location of that name in France.

It’s only in recent months that Trinidad and Tobago registered its first geographic location trademark for Montserrat Hill Single Domain Cocoa, and even that was the result of an international challenge to the TT claim of market leading cocoa products.

Local plant breeders can protect new varieties, but it’s unclear whether anyone working in that space is even aware of the value of locking down the results of their genetic engineering.

It’s not as if the IPO doesn’t have an entire web page dedicated to links that address current developments and areas of concern.

There’s also Dr Vanus James’ 106 page study on the very specific value of IP to TT, which I contributed to by way of sitting through a very detailed one hour conversation at the NCC.

The IP Office is a registration and education agency, not an action arm dedicated to identifying potentially lucrative areas of copyright protection and applying for appropriate protections.

But the IP Office is a registration and education agency, not an action arm dedicated to identifying potentially lucrative areas of copyright protection and applying for appropriate protections.

I know this because I challenged Gayahpersad on it, albeit rhetorically.

Carnival’s costumed creations are specifically protected by industrial patent, a matter that’s been clearly stated since the last time I sat through a much longer discussion on copyright in 2014.

Has anyone bothered to register a copyright for the two decades’ worth of protection an Industrial Patent would offer?

Has there been a successful registration of a Works of Mas copyright?

The troublingly vague and very specific protection covers a Carnival project from TT or Grenada which is expressed as a very specific mix of costuming, music, choreography and direction, something that has never been a major aspect of Carnival despite the outsized appreciation that’s offered to such efforts.

What of the thousands of songs created for Carnival every year that are comprehensively catalogued in only one place, YouTube and most specifically on the channel of JuliansPromos?

I kept returning to a compelling statement by Dr Crowne; “If you don’t have your own servers located in Trinidad, you are going to be subject to the copyright law in the country where the platform operates.”

Creatives in TT turn a remarkable amount of the intellectual property they create over to cloud services hosted in other countries. What does this mean for the long-term control of these creative works?

A copyright regime is created for only one purpose, to reward the creators of IP in a direct relationship to the popularity, marketability and value to purchasers and licensors of their work.

COTT and other agencies claw over each other to police the big tunes every Carnival, but who is tending the rest of our creative output?

This report was originally written as a BitDepth column but other matters in Carnival copyright have since overtaken it. It is reproduced as a report here both for reference and as a record of the event.