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N Touch
Monday 18 June 2018
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Commentary

Smart man ting nah

DARA HEALY

... nut’in in de world don’t bother we

But look a smart man gone wid we money

We still come out and mash up de party

David Rudder, Trini to De Bone

THE STORY is told of how mas legend Peter Minshall created the inflatable dancing puppet. In an interview, he describes how he sat in the Atlanta stadium while there to create mas for the 1996 Olympic Games.

He recalls that he sat in the bleachers sketching possible ways to use inflatable tubes. He suddenly realised that “with a wind source, we could create a huge, incredible, undulating dancing figure... He envisaged a stadium filled with these tall, swaying figures.”

As the story goes, Minshall realised he needed technical help and shared his idea with an artist from another country who had some experience in this area. Unknown to Minshall, the artist applied for and received a patent for the Tall Boys as Minshall called them.

A quick online search shows that inflatable dancing men are used globally – from the United States to Europe, China, Guam ... for promotion of businesses and events. Good for the artist; not so good for Minshall.

There is hardly a creative person that does not have a story of their ideas being stolen by someone, usually that they trust, with the result that they are prevented from reaping the financial rewards of their own creative genius. The law apparently supports this kind of theft. “Copyright protects the expression of an idea as it is recorded, but not the idea itself.” However, at least copyright “arises automatically on creation — under UK law, it does not need to be registered.”

Further, copyright allows creators of original works control over their creative outputs for a specific period of time during their lifetime and after they have passed. This term is different based on the particular country or legislative region. For instance, the European Union “harmonised their respective terms in 1994. In the EU countries, the term of protection is the lifetime of the artist plus 70 years.”

Existing legislation may provide some comfort to creative minds. However, given my personal and repeated experiences with smart men (and women) offering to videotape our work, help us grow our business or collaborate on an idea, I have to wonder if the artist is more susceptible to this kind of trickery because of the intangible nature of what we do.

Think about it — Jean and Dinah, No Woman no Fraid no Bois Man, The Mas, Mystic Masseur, Black Man Feeling to Party, Nah Leaving — these words, chants, phrases and meanings have now become welded to who we are as TT. They are now part of our lexicon, integral to our collective identity. Is there a belief that because creative works reflect us and move us, they really belong to society?

Moreover, are we victims of our desire to constantly share our creativity? Dancers must dance, actors are always looking for the next script, wirebenders must create, writers need the feel of the pen or the keyboard, painters need the canvas. I feel as though non-creative people understand this better than even we do. Like the artist with Minshall, they recognise the brilliance which we do not, because for us the sketch of a dancing puppet is, well, normal.

Smart men and women will never stop being who they are, or doing what they do. And the law can only protect to a certain degree. The onus is therefore on creative and cultural workers to guard against mocking pretenders, as far as possible. For me, the key is documentation.

I recall the inaudible gasps of shock when we included non-disclosure agreements in our proposals. But it lessened the instances of seeing our idea being implemented by the very entity that turned us down.

Thus, before “you create a work with someone else ... it’s critical to discuss who will have copyright ownership rights over the work and how royalties will be split down the line.

“No matter how happy and excited and energetic about the work you are together, it might not always be that way... Come up with an agreement while you’re still happy.” As creative people, ideas are at our core. So, in a sense I disagree with part of the opening Rudder quote. When they steal our ideas, it bothers us.

It hurts. But the cool thing is there are always more brilliant concepts waiting to emerge, and that they will never be able to take. Just ask Minshall.

Dara Healy is a performance artist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network — ICAN

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