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Vintage Trini calypsoes stolen
by US companies

By Terry Joseph
March 16, 2004

SOME 60 years after Lord Invader's "Rum and Coca Cola" was stolen by US music producer Morey Amsterdam, who reportedly made a mint from selling unlawful copies of a cover-version sung by The Andrews Sisters, a local producer has discovered a similar situation involving a number of timeless calypsoes.

Trinidad's most prolific music producer, Moonasar Chankar, last week discovered a number of blockbuster vintage Trini calypsoes have mysteriously changed ownership and are now listed in the catalogues of American publishers, a move that prevents bonafide owners from any further duplication of the works.

Chankar stumbled upon the situation when attempting to complete a new compilation CD, Soca's Golden Hits, featuring several such calypsoes, including Johnny King's "Wet Mih Down", Grandmaster Kitchener's "Bees Melody" and Trinidad Rio's "Big Shot Party", all of which he holds publishing rights for or was given licence to use by New York-based producer Julian Williams of B's Records.

Neither composer/performer Johnny King nor Chankar has any recollection of signing over the rights to "Wet Mih Down" but the latter found out last week that the song is now "owned" by a Long Island-based company called Elspeth Arts and, for fear of litigation, pressing plants would not touch it on anyone else's instruction.

Chankar yesterday said the same system that is supposed to protect his works from plagiarism or unlawful duplication has turned around and made it impossible for him to do any transaction with those products. This incredulous development has cost the producer thousands of dollars.

"Because of the extent of music piracy, the pressing plants now have a responsibility under the law to make sure they are not making copies for pirates," he said. "That is good because we are not around in the US to monitor these things, but the arrangement is also allowing big companies to steal music and make as if they are original owners.

"All the CD pressing plants are now hooked into a company that searches for the titles and ownership of songs to make sure the correct person is trying to make copies, so while I am the correct person, the company has a different set of information and is rejecting my attempt to copy my own song," Chankar said.

The company in this case, Replicheck, is a copyright indentification service that helps reduce the risk of replicating pirated CD content. It quickly scans a CD for copy righted music, then reports the song title, performing artiste, releasing label and copyright date, publisher and date published, cross-referencing it against a claimant's licence documentation.

Because every recording has perceptual characteristics that make it unique and indentifiable, just like human fingerprints, Replicheck is able to measure these traits through patented software called Audible Magic, which can take a small snatch of audio and by spectral analysis techniques pinpoint the specific recording.

"The really weird thing is that when I contacted the Elspeth Arts, they very quickly said it is not really their song and offered to give me a letter saying they don't own it but now I would have to do that for every song somebody claims and still on the computer records, it would have their name so anybody anywhere in the world wanting to use the song would be paying them and I would never know about it.

"The Replicheck records are actually saying that since 2001 Elspeth Arts owned the rights to 'Wet Mih Down' but neither Johnny King nor I have ever sold or leased the rights to anyone, so it is a straight case of finding songs they feel cannot be easily traced and just putting them on their catalogue as owner," Chankar said.

"I also learnt from the same computer search that Rounder Records in Boston said they owned Trinidad Rio's "Big Shot Party" and Monarch's "Saltfish Tongue" and a firm called Mondo Melodia in California is claiming ownership fo Kitchener's "Bees Melody".

His "Pan in A Minor" is listed under Eddy Grant's Ice Records but I know there was some agreement between them at one time.

"Now my CD is being held up and is not like you could go to another plant because they all have the same system." Chankar said.

The Copyright Organisation (COTT), OF WHICH Chankar is a long-standing member, has promised to look into the matter. CEO Allison Demas was yesterday making arrangements to meet Chankar and obtain all the necessary information to pursue an investigation and resolution of the issue on his behalf.

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