Are Calypsonians Adequately Protected By The Copyright Act?

Sir Lawrence A Joseph

by Dr. Lawrence A. Joseph

In the year 1943, a Trinidadian calypsonian called Lord Invader wrote and sang a calypso entitled “Yankee Dollar”. The music to the calypso was done by one Lionel Belasco. In 1945 it was discovered that the same song with just a few changes with a new name “Rum and Coca Cola” was sung by a group in the United States called the Andrews Sisters. This song was a big hit on the United States Billboard Charts, and remained there for ten weeks. After several years of litigation for infringement of copyright, Lord Invader and Lionel Belasco received judgment in their favour against one Morey Amsterdam who claimed that the song was his. Lord Invader received US$150,000.00 in owed royalties in 1948. It so happened that Amsterdam was actually in Trinidad in 1943 and “stole” Lord Invader’s calypso.

The above story only goes to show that if artistes are not careful, all the hard work which they put into creating a song could go towards the benefit of others and not themselves. They must therefore be ever vigilant about protecting their copyright. Copyright refers to a right to intellectual property deemed to be owned by the creators of original literary and artistic works. This right may exist in books, speeches, dramatic works, musical works and other areas within the literary and artistic domain. Dependent upon individual agreements, copyright in a song or calypso may be owned by the composer of the lyrics, or the singer or the publisher and possibly by all of these parties as a group.

Grenada, being a signatory to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works enacted the Copyright Act of 2011 which overtook a previous legislation. The Act recognizes the existence of copyright in literary and artistic works such as calypsos and theatre productions and provides generally that the owner of copyright has the exclusive right to the protection of his or her work including reproduction, translation, adaptation, distribution, rental, public display and broadcast. The work of the copyright owner is entitled to be protected during his or her lifetime and for fifty years after his or her death.

Section 40 of the Act provides that the copyright owner is entitled to take Court action against anyone who infringes his or her copyright. The owner may then be entitled to compensation, and/or an injunction against the infringer. If the infringement of the copyright is for profit-making purposes, then an infringer may on summary conviction be fined up to fifty thousand dollars or be imprisoned for up to five years. Section 47 of the Act gives special powers to the police who may, without warrant, enter and search any premises, vessel, aircraft or vehicle in which it is reasonably suspected that there are infringing copies of copyright material, such as CDs or cassettes. The police may then proceed with the appropriate legal actions.

Section 51 of the Act permits a licensing body to grant general licences to businesses seeking to give public performances of music in respect of protected works. This body does so as agent for the owners of copyright material. In the music industry, Grenada and other Eastern Caribbean countries are assisted in this area by the Eastern Caribbean Collective Organization for Music Rights. (ECCO). This organization grants licences to businesses which play music to the general public and allocates fees collected from this endeavour to various artistes for the performances of their protected materials after the relevant administrative costs are deducted.

A public performance of music is defined as any performance of music outside of the regular domestic environment and includes performances in hotels, restaurants, shops and stores. The purchaser of a CD with music does not buy the copyright of the music on the CD and therefore does not have the right to play its music to the general public without a clearance from ECCO. Through reciprocal agreements with Collective Management Organizations (CMOs) throughout the world ECCO can also police any music from any part of the world.

With regards to calypso music in Grenada, it is observed that generally it is the singers of calypsos who always get the recognition. Perhaps the time has come when the important role that song writers play is given more prominence. Therefore whenever calypsonians are called upon the stage to perform, the names of the writers of the various calypsos must also be called. They too may be the owners of copyright material.

In summary, it may be concluded that the Copyright Act of Grenada contains adequate provisions for the protection of all copyright owners including song writers, singers and publishers. However it is generally up to these persons to ensure that the provisions of the Act are well known to themselves and that those provisions are followed.

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