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Bajan kaiso on 'pause'

By Terry Joseph
March 12, 2004

Crop Over, the national festival of Barbados, could be in serious jeopardy, after owners of recording studios shut down facilities, vowing to keep them closed until the island's government takes decisive action against music piracy.

The "pause" button was pressed last month after artistes teamed with music producers and studio proprietors to highlight their plight, in the face of mounting and more blatant piracy which, they argue, is not being seriously addressed by government.

Barbadian calypso music has, over the past few years, become increasingly popular in Trinidad and Tobago, particularly as it marks the first set of new releases after this country's Carnival, songs that often maintain popularity locally until the following year.

Although the problem is even more acute in Trinidad and Tobago, major successes have been scored through updating legislation and crackdowns on persons suspected of music piracy, the latest major haul involving a Central Trinidad man who was found with not only 10,000 CDs but an employee-appraisal system for commending operatives who turned in the highest sales.

Up to February 27, the Ministry of Legal Affairs organised a march through Port of Spain to bring attention to the plight of composers whose works were being stolen and sold by pirates. Addressing the marchers on the Brian Lara Promenade, Copyright Organisation (COTT) CEO Allison Demas said she was tired of pounding the pavement without tangible result and called for more decisive action.

Evidently, Barbadian industry players are at one with that sentiment. The shutdown is creating panic among fete promoters but officials of the island's National Cultural Foundation are yet to show any sign of stress-one was quoted as saying "Crop Over will go on regardless"-a statement that further incensed calypsonians who normally would have already begun recording new work for the July festival.

Positions became even further polarised last weekend when a man was held with over 5,000 unlawfully reproduced CDs. Thirsting for an example to be made of him, the island's Copyright Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (COSCAP) requested two days in which to secure a power of attorney from US-based VP Records to prosecute the matter. However, the man was released in the interim.

COSCAP officials were this week alleging that the very police helped themselves to some of the pirated CDs (some say officers actually purchased the illegal recordings). The problem, industry officials have suggested, is that police do not know enough about copyright to show interest in such cases, far more arrest and prosecute the thieves.

The Music/Video Producers and Retailers of Barbados (MVPRB) last month ratcheted up an ongoing protest by closing down the studios, after a man caught with 773 pirated CDs was fined a mere TT$150 for "exposing the items for sale without a permit," a charge under the Markets and Slaughter-Houses Act, which bore no reference to the stealing of intellectual property.

The MVPRB executive, comprising Peter Boyce, Derek Wilkie, Charles D Lewis, John Edwards, Ian Alleyne, Anderson Armstrong and Nicholas Brancker, vowed to maintain the shut down for "as long as is necessary," a move that will negatively affect Crop Over but has already impacted the advertising industry.

The body is demanding changes in laws relating to intellectual property, including making it a criminal offence for anyone to re-package, re-label or reproduce and offer for sale or rent-without the written permission of the copyright holders-any music or audio-visual in any format other than that in which it was originally produced.

Boyce also suggested giving police and the court permission to seize all equipment used in acts of music piracy, whether they be CD burners, digital data, computers or vehicles, pending trial and is asking for a mandatory BDS$10,000 fine or 12 months in prison to be slapped on anyone producing or buying pirated musical or audio-visual products.

He said recommended changes, which were forwarded to the Attorney General's Office, could result in successful prosecution of music piracy matters, pointing to two cases which had been thrown out because of restrictions occasioned by the language of the law.

Wilkie of CRS Music said at the last meeting with the police, officers said they would be taking courses with the World Intellectual Property Organisation over the next two years but feared by that time there may not be a music industry to worry about.

A number of high-profile music industry and copyright executives share the MVPRB anxiety. COSCAP CEO, Erica Smith wondered aloud about why arrested persons were being charged under inappropriate laws or getting off lightly.

President of BATMAN, Peter Boyce, called the BDS$50 fine a slap in the face of the entertainment industry.

In a statement of support sent from Guyana and copied to the Express, CEO at Ice Records, Eddy Grant said: "Our very survival as music creators, producers, singers, engineers, musicians and the whole group of their attendant support mechanisms may depend on our strength in togetherness.

"I am indeed very sorry that I can't be at this time in Barbados to deliver this message, as this is an historic moment in the development of Caribbean People. But never mind, we are young, and blind as to the true value of ourselves as a group; full of singular personal ambition without paying attention to the condition and needs of the team.

"We have a lot to learn, as we listen to those who seek to turn our attention away from the true education; that of our love for ourselves, and as a result realizing our true value in a progressively more hostile world, where we suffer from this pernicious cultural sickness that makes us crave everything from outside the region while we stifle our own. Best of luck with the protest," Grant said.

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