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Sampling trouble for Road March

By Terry Joseph
January 14, 2004

LOCAL composers who lift musical passages from previously released works 9aka "samples") have not been acknowledging those sources and may be in for big trouble if challenged by creators of the songs the use, according to Copyright Organisation (COTT) CEO Allison Demas.

Over the past few years, there has been an exponential rise in sampling of foreign songs, particularly in the road- march arena, often with not even a reference to its source and sometimes claiming authorship of (and royalties for) the adapted work.

This discovery comes in the wake of a position taken by the Trinbago (TUCO), and carried exclusively in the Sunday Express, in which president Michael "Protector"Legerton advised that songs which borrow heavily from previously released works will no longer be eligible for Road March prizes.

Speaking yesterday to the Express, COTT's Demas said: "This is very dangerous business. While there is nothing unlawful about sampling per se and it is a current trend in the global music industry, the composer of a work that uses passages from another song needs to secure written permission from the original author in advance of releasing the adapted version containing that person's music."

On joining COTT, part of the written agreement requires that all music submitted by the member will be original and not infringe on other previously authored material. Furthermore, for each song created, a sidebar provision is made for the persons registering it to declare whether he or she is using a sample or rearranging previously registered work. In such cases, written authorisation must be attached.

"For all the many instances of sampling we have witnessed over the past few years, not one local composer has ever tendered the mandatory written authorisation from the original creator. That practice can lead to an enormous amount of trouble, especially if the song becomes a major international hit, "Demas said.

"It is not good enough to merely credit the original composer in the liner-notes, saying the song was adapted from another, because the internationally agreed practice is that, before even committing the work to recorded format, some financial consideration should be worked out with the creator of the source material.

"Quite unfortunately, this has not been happening and the situation was considered serious enough to be placed on the agenda of COTT's December 2003 Board meeting, where consideration of a policy to deal with clear and straightforward cased was discussed. A decision was taken to suspend royalties in such situations until the member presents written authorisation for using the sample, because doing otherwise would compromise our organisation.

"The situation has gone too far,"Demas said. "Until a foreign composer sues someone here and collects not just the royalties but perhaps exemplary compensation, locals may not understand the seriousness of this kind of infringement.

"Our songwriters have been getting away with it so far, perhaps because foreign composers of mega-hits consider the local market too small and not worth the effort, but there is no guarantee this will continue forever or for long.

"What a lot of young composers may not realise is that dancehall acts like Shaggy and others secure authorisation in advance for use of samples and, an any event, often use music clips from catalogues of other acts on the same label; so the procedure is simplified,"Demas said.

COTT has acted as mediator in a number of cases where creators recognize lifts from their works in new songs. Andre Tanker was among the more vigilant and enjoyed percentages of royalties from several composers who did not secure permission or conclude deals in advance of using portions of his work.

Nor is the problem confined to calypso and folk music. Chutney, it turns out, is one of the larger culprits, taking Indian classical music and speeding up the tempo to produce chutney jams. "We do have people writing original chutney songs,"Demas said, but several of our members have challenged others who register songs that have been adapted from other works.

"But the (COTT) Board is adamant: If we are notified of such a claim, royalties to the alleged composer will be suspended until the matter is reconciled. Where exact music or lyrics are clearly used, we will take a proactive position,"Demas said.

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