Trinidad and Tobago


Terry's beach banner

Holding on to property

By Terry Joseph
April 24, 2002

As a lover of festivity and general jollification, anytime the word “celebrate” pops up I automatically conjure images of achievement being saluted with pomp relevant to the circumstance and, of course, appropriate catering. Such a moment occurred Monday, when an Express report told of plans by the Intellectual Property Office of the Legal Affairs Ministry to join contemporaries throughout the world this Friday, in celebrating World Intellectual Property Day.

A statement from the Legal Affairs Ministry said: “We want the public to respect the intellectual property rights of creators, inventors and writers etcetera, and to stop the infringement of these various works.”

Perhaps political correctness informed the tone of the ministry’s statement, resulting in so close a resemblance to chidings from other equally important agencies, whether advocating world peace, safe sex or asking people to not litter and say “no” to drugs.

We can only presume that at the material time, local input to Friday’s global celebration is considerably more substantial than its kindly worded admonition to hardcore pirates and swashbuckling counterfeiters, who illegally duplicate patented or copyrighted works for personal gain.

Let us agree on two things: As a way of ensuring compliance, persuasion hasn’t really worked well since the Eve and the Apple episode. In addition, complicity by the purchasing public has rendered anti-piracy laws virtually impotent. Perhaps varying the interpretation of “caveat emptor” just a tad, might be all we really need.

Nor should local-music piracy be counted exclusively on the basis of city sidewalk sales. It has become a viable export product. Over the past year alone, I have encountered several instances of bootlegging done abroad by Trinis who at home, for public consumption, join in decrying the practice.

Browsing in New York last May, a huge advertisement in the show window of a Brooklyn store, boasting its stock of Trini soca and pan music, also offered “individual tracks or mixes” of the hits. On entering the store, I recognised a beaming Trini behind the counter. “I have t’ing here that ain’t even reach down home yet,” he chirped.

At Miami Carnival in October, several soca music traders set up stalls at major venues, openly hawking illegally acquired wares and at giveaway prices. A Trini DJ, who enjoyed massive popularity during his time on the local circuit, ran the largest such stall.

A fortnight ago, while visiting The Cayman Islands, there he was, a well-known Trini radio station employee offering for sale, compilation CDs of the 27 most successful soca songs released last Carnival. Priced at a mere US$10, the CD proudly sported a picture of the Trinidad and Tobago flag.

The salesman enhanced an already brisk trade, by explaining to customers the value of bargain he was offering. It was easy to convince potential buyers by comparing his CD with the real price of culling the 27 works under separate covers.

And today’s pirates do not stop at unlawful reproduction of CDs. In Miami, there are pirate radio stations aplenty. None of them pay royalties. Some have however attained such a level of “urban legitimacy”, they are now bullying properly licensed and royalty-paying frequencies off the bandspread.

At the Cayman Carnival, several such radio stations actually did live broadcasts of events there, sending signals back to Miami and charging advertisers for association with those programmes.

These fine, upstanding advertisers are therefore supporting piracy for purposes of personal economic advantage, not unlike the guy on the corner with the counterfeit CD. The composer will earn nothing from duplication of his creation and the legitimate stations, the only source of royalties, will soon go out of business.

Then there’s the relatively new incursion of computer aided piracy, with music enthusiasts exchanging files containing tens of thousands of song-titles, transactions that shunt nothing to composers and publishers.

Among the more recent discoveries is the plight of pan, with foreigners securing patents to processes long known and applied here. Of all the advances made in the production of steelband instruments, just a few have been patented, most notably Denzil “Dimes” Fernandez invention of the bore-pan and the pan-tuning stand by Oscar Roberts.

The Legal Affairs Ministry consequently has much to choose from in composing its Friday stance in support of World Intellectual Property Day. There are a number of complex matters involving the curbing of music piracy and patents to be explained, rather than settle for definitions of the problem and urging of upright citizens to support creators instead of culprits.

With the ownership of major patrimony already under control of trans-national corporations, every Trini youth must be prepared to take counsel from Iwer and “Hold on to Your Property”. The seniors will remember the message in The Mighty Power’s “Culture”.

And for all, a listen to Black Stalin one more time as he sings “Love Yuh Own”. Take in the chorus:

One of these days
You go wake up
And hear what you go find
Canada is the land of limbo
England is the land of kaiso
Sweden is land of the steelpan
There is nothing for Trinbagonians
Then we go put we hand on we head
And we go bawl out:
“If ah did know,
“If ah did know.
I woulda hold on to mih steelband and calypso.”

Previous Page / Terry's Homepage

Copyright © 2002 Terry Joseph