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N Touch
Monday 19 February 2018
Commentary

Considering copyright … again

It might seem surprising, but conversations about copyright, in music and particularly in Carnival, continue (http://ow.ly/XScI30i2NuN) with no apparent resolution in sight.

A week ago, a small group of industry professionals gathered to listen to Clyde McKenzie, a Jamaican industry entrepreneur, and Prof Kienda Hoji, a practising lawyer and educator in the field, who joined proceedings via a spotty internet connection.

McKenzie reviewed the state of affairs to date, recounting the revolution in file-sharing that crippled the established music industry in the late 20th century, the platforms that arose, the status of play, with streaming increasingly commanding listeners and the dramatically diminished returns for creators and performers that’s resulted.

“Once the tour was a promotion for selling records,” McKenzie said, “but now the reverse is true. In Jamaica, artists didn’t make much from their recorded product, so they toured to make their money. Now it’s the norm.”

McKenzie also worried about the excessive clamping down on experimentation that’s accompanied new copyright regimes.

“A more permissive copyright environment is present in Jamaica,” he noted. “People will borrow a lot in the creative sense, but they really don’t pay back until money is made from a successful production.”

TT operates with a copyright law that’s based on legislation first passed in the UK in 1956. It’s been amended since proclamation, but as Hoji noted, “We are trying to regulate 21st-century reality with laws that were created for the creative environment of the 1700s.”

“A little piece of your work used in a popular song could be your payday for the rest of your life,” McKenzie said.

That little piece, according to Hoji, is often decided in court and depends on how recognisable the snippet of melody or lyric is, sometimes through a field now known as forensic musicology.

Once it’s identified as a legally defined “substantial part,” a creator can benefit greatly from the returns on a popular work. The discussion then turned to arranger Leston Paul, seated front row in the audience, as a conversation about one of his biggest hits, his work on Arrow’s Hot, Hot, Hot, stirred.

Paul asked, “The amount of work that arrangers did over the years, we created the music that made hits for decades. Where do I stand as being part of the money that was generated from those works?”

How that music is created greatly influences the payout participation from a successful song.

Some calypsonians were said to come to the studio with lyrics and expect the arranger to come up with backing. Others were able to sing to a recognisable melody, establishing musical authorship. Today, entire songs are built as “riddems” and popular singers are invited to ride them, putting a stamp of additional authorship through lyric and arrangement contributions to the works.

Hoji was surprised to discover that some TT riddems charge performers to use the works, another example of the region going its own way creatively.

“Let’s agree as soon as possible after creation how the work is split in terms of creativity,” Hoji advised. “It’s challenging to work that out long after the fact, and once the track starts to be successful, all kinds of people start coming out of the woodwork after to claim credit.

“It’s always harder to establish those splits after the fact, particularly for popular songs. Success is always your greatest enemy.”

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column can be found there

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