Saturday, October 25, 2008

Reproduction Rights, Remembering Rodney and Ataklan's Sun Starts to Rise

Life happens. That’s what. And blogs have to take second place at times like that. A lot took place in the last few weeks. On the 10th I went to Miami at the invitation of Dr. Patricia Saunders to give a talk at the University of Miami on Entertainment Report as an archive of Jamaican popular culture. They were launching their website on Caribbean Art and Visual Culture "As Far as the Eye/I Can See" and celebrating the fifth anniversary of Anthurium, an online journal produced by the Department of English Literature.

I had with some difficulty managed to obtain copies of ER footage from TVJ but the quality was variable (much of the footage was unusable because the volume wasn’t consistent) and they had locked it so that I couldn’t go in and extract the clips I wanted to show during my presentation. Fortunately I had enough material to cover the gaps where I had intended to play the clips and the talk was a great success. I understand TVJ’s legal department’s zeal to ensure that their footage is not abused in any way but I think they are penalizing the wrong parties in the process.

I mean how likely is it that someone who writes asking for permission to use video clips in a presentation at an academic institution, providing all the supporting documents necessary, is going to turn around and sell the footage and violate TVJ’s copyright? Even if that had been my intention the quality of what I was provided would have been enough to render it useless for such purposes. Meanwhile I hear that multiple DVDs of TVJ’s hit series Rising Stars are freely available on the streets of downtown Kingston. A case of misplaced zeal and priorities?

I would recommend that the legal eagles at TVJ and other media entities take advantage of the fact that the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFFRO) is holding their 37th Annual General Meeting at the Ritz Carlton in Montego Bay from Oct. 26 to the 31st, next week to be precise.

Now the ‘Reproduction’ in their name is not a reference to biological reproduction or cloning but ‘reprography’ or the legal reproduction or copying of copyrighted works whether textual, artistic, musical or any form of creative content. Their mission statement explains it best: “IFRRO works to increase on an international basis the lawful use of text and image based copyright works and to eliminate unauthorised copying by promoting efficient Collective Management of rights through RROs to complement creators' and publishers' own activities.”

JAMCOPY, the Jamaican Copyright Licensing Agency (on the board of which I sit), is the local organization responsible for organizing this prestigious international meeting here. All week long international policy for the licensing of musical works, newspapers, visual material, digital products, amongst other things is going to be discussed and signed off on right here on our shores. One hopes that the local legal and media fraternity will take this opportunity to bring themselves up to date on these issues of intellectual property; IP as it is called for short is one of the most important products of the twenty first century and its licensing and regulation are going to be key components in the future welfare of nations.

I returned to Jamaica just in time for the Walter Rodney conference that was held from October 16th to the 18th. Rodney as many of us know was a Guyanese historian who taught at the University of the West Indies in the 1960s. What made him unique was his activism, his insistence on making education available to the poor, his focus on rehabilitating pride in things African. As Wikipedia has it:

Rodney was sharply critical of the middle class for its role in the post-independence Caribbean. When the Jamaican government, led by prime minister Hugh Shearer, banned him, in October 1968, from ever returning to the country, because of his advocacy for the working poor in that country, riots broke out, eventually claiming the lives of several people and causing millions of dollars in damages. These riots, which started on October 16, 1968, are now known as the Rodney Riots, and they triggered an increase in political awareness across the Caribbean, especially among the Afrocentric Rastafarian sector of Jamaica, documented in his book, The Groundings with my Brothers.

The conference, organized by the Institute of Caribbean Studies in collaboration with the Centre for Caribbean Thought at UWI, was held to mark the 40th anniversary of the Rodney Riots. One of the stand-out moments came when the floor was opened for discussion after Honorary Professor Edward Seaga, a former Prime Minister and leader of the Jamaica Labour Party which had been in government when Rodney was made persona non grata made his presentation. Mr. Seaga held forth for 45 minutes instead of the prescribed 20 and talked about Garvey and Rasta and everything it seemed but Walter Rodney, disappointing those who thought they were going to hear a personal aside on the events of the late 1960s. While he did eventually touch on the subject of the conference Professor Horace Campbell of Syracuse University and author of the book Rasta and Resistance got up during the discussion period to say that had Mr. Seaga been one of his students he would have given him an F. To his credit Mr. Seaga accepted the criticism graciously.

Another memorable moment for me was the opening talk by Pat Rodney, Walter’s widow. Walter Rodney was killed in Guyana in 1980 by a bomb disguised as a radio transmitter. He was attempting to run for political office there. For many on the African continent and elsewhere Rodney was a figure of the stature of Malcolm X. For instance my friend Achal Prabhala, read his writings in Bangalore, India and was moved to go all the way to Guyana to find out more about him. Read his “In Search of Walter Rodney” which appeared in Transition magazine.

Surely a Rodney memorial at UWI is overdue? I visualize a beautiful mural by Ricky Culture on one of the blank walls at UWI.

Finally I returned to find that Ataklan’s song Sun Starts to Rise (Ataklan is one of the most nonconformist, critical voices in Caribbean music today), complete with music video is now available on YouTube. Apart from being inspirational and simply brilliant, it has special meaning for me because it was born in my house about six years ago. I was hosting Klan on his first visit to Jamaica from Trinidad and woke up to hear him belting out the first few lines of the song. When he mentioned that his dream was to do a song in Jamaica I took him to Mikie Bennett at Grafton Studios where the initial production was done. It’s taken a while (at periodic visits to TnT I’ve had the pleasure of being treated to intermediate stages of the song) but Klan has finally got it off and it really is a beauty. The video is minimalist but eloquent. Do watch it.


FSJL said...

It is a small matter of pride that the Walter Rodney Papers are at the Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, and that I participated in the formal delivery of the papers to the library in 2004. Pat Rodney is at the Morehouse School of Medicine which is part of the AUC.

An annual Walter Rodney Conference has been held at the AUC since 2004, to commemorate his birthday and in honour of the presence of his papers.

When Walter Rodney was banned from re-entering Jamaica in October 1968, the students at UWI protested and rioting followed. There was a debate in Parliament on the events, and one MP (Maxey Carey from Westmoreland) seized the mace at the beginning of the debate as a protest, crying out 'This is intellectual murder'. He was suspended from the House as a result. Edward Seaga, in his speech to the House afterwards, sought to minimise Carey's protest by saying that he had heard Carey ask in the lobby of Parliament 'Why didn't they let the doctor go to the hospital?' I wonder why no one has asked Seaga to explain this statement, and to explain why this doesn't quite jibe with Carey's cry of 'intellectual murder' (a phrase that has stuck with me ever since I first read it in Jamaica Hansard long years ago).

I don't agree with Horace on much, but I certainly agree with him on the point of the grade I'd award to Seaga.

Annie Paul said...

wow. yes, i did know about the paper being at the Atlanta U Ctr but not your involvement in it. i also noted that there is an annual conference/acknowledgment of Walter there...thanks for filling in the blanks...

FSJL said...

My involvement in the process was small. My department was part of the ceremony, and I helped with some of the arrangements (obtaining greetings from the University of Dar es Salaam and from UWI Mona, and as co-presenter of a paper on the memory of Walter Rodney in Jamaica).

Anonymous said...

Hail Annie Paul,

Yuh trick I with yuh caption! I though you were going to write (as others have done) and equate abortion with reproductive rights. I have observed that this emotive issue seems to cause seasoned intellectuals on both sides of the issue to engage in unsophisticated analysis and name calling. If you did duh dat yuh woulda really hurt up mi head dis early Sunday morning.

However, your reporting of Mr. Seaga’s doings (seeming insensitivity or is it lack of awareness) has evoked some emotion and has caused me to reflect on parts of my childhood. My perspective on the political history of Jamaica has been shaped by many things including early socialization which dehumanized political rivals. We use to call all “labourites” Lebanese. I laugh now since (Blinds) the Party leader’s family was from Syria.

That aside, politicians from Mr. Seaga’s era, Socialist and “Labourite”, have a lot to answer for. My take on the issue is that Mr. Lieaga helped this country spiral into one of the bloodiest periods of our history. He and his party (pawns of the US government at the time) reportedly accepted guns and ammunition from the ubiquitous CIA to fight communist expansionism by killing every thing tied to socialism. Still I like the Man. He has a sharp mind and he’s witty. He can keep your attention even when he says things you don’t want to hear – a really great orator. Too bad he is a Dinosaur!

Now Ms. Paul as it relates to JAMCOPY and copyright laws, rules and guidelines…I have little regard for any of them! NO DISRESPECT TO YOU or the work you do but you are fighting a losing battle.

The cost to developing countries to observe copyright rules is tremendous. For example, It increases the cost of education to the individual student and will reduce the number of persons attending University.

Hear mi on this Annie, at UWI more so during my post graduate stint I had to (illegally) reproduce tons of material. If I didn’t my education would literally have cost three times more than it did. Even now I am still in debt because of the experience. Knowledge should be shared, knowledge should be free (must be the socialist in me speaking).

Additionally, the technology is outpacing the law at an exponential rate. If I can see it or hear it I can capture it…so they say who are ‘pirates’.

Admittedly, I download movies, books, research, articles and songs including Ataklan’s stuff. Why? I simply can’t afford to buy the “original”. Truth be told, I would not buy a lot of the entertainment material anyway because they lack creativity. The only problem I have is when persons reproduce and sell material. However, I could argue, especially as it relates to entertainment, that the seller is adding value by opening up new markets for the pirated material. ‘Pirates’ may also help reduce the cost to the end user. These justifications sit well with many.

Finally, you know Annie that music entertainment will have to move in the direction of live performance. Artistes will have to start giving away Albums (like they would demos) as promotional material in the hopes that it will help to funnel fans into mega concerts where the real money will be made from ticket sales. What will happen for movies and books? Only time will tell.

Peace and love, Stero

Natalie said...

Annie - I have not been able to stop by your blog very much, and I can see that I have been missing a lot!

Sounds like you are doing valuable work, in terms of creating some kind of infrastructure for defining what entertainers do/produce as "knowledge", as well as a system for protecting and systematizing that knowledge.

That issue about access to visual and audio archives is so important and yet, not well understood it seems. A couple of recent examples: IRIE-FM gave me all kinds of hell just to allow my students to get temporary time-bound access to the audiostream!

So far, I have not been able to get access to valuable information from TVJ because the contact person I was routed to (via the National Library contact person who was supposed to know but didn't) 1) doesn't know where the relevant audio and video files are stored; 2) doesn't know who is supposed to know where they are; 3) does not think that any of this "not knowing" is a problem.

re: stero's comment about the high cost of observing copyright rules for students in places like Jamaica. I don't understand why that would be. Doesn't the "fair use" rule apply where you can copy a fair amount of material as long as its for a limited educational use? What's UWI's role in negotiating these costs? Even being in the US, I've left these considerations up to to the librarian and the production folks who I expect will tell me when I am violating the rule. So far, I - and other faculty around the country - continue to make our coursepacks and the powers that be have not complained since the big lawsuit in early 1990s. Given the prohibitive cost of books, shouldn't the library be figuring out innovative ways to help students understand and deal with these issues? That's too much of a pipe dream?

I'll try to return more often!

Annie Paul said...


you know you might be preaching to the converted on copyright, at heart i believe in Fidel's maxim, the world is welcome to whatever we have created in Cuba and in return we will take what we want from the world or words to that effect. he was talking of IP of course...

i do sympathize about not being able to afford to buy books and copying being cheaper etc. Natalie its not about fair use, its about textbook chapters being copied or entire books--the publisher would argue that this hurts his/her bottom line.

but think of people like photographers in Ja...for many years our esteemed newspapers would use their work without providing them with so much as a byline or acknowledgment much less proper payment for use of their work. you understand that this is fundamentally unfair and in a different category from a student who copies what he needs in the way of texts or people who download music etc.

so copyright has its uses but i agree that it can be counterproductive if applied too stringently...this is what i was complaining about with regard to TVJ. and the world seems to be moving more and more towards free access. these are some of the things bound to come up at the IFFRO AGM.

On Mr. Seaga, i have tremendous respect for him. its the way he carries himself, his grave demeanour, his deep understanding of the culture. i'm a little uncomfortable with some of the names used to describe him by Stero but hey i'm sure none of this is new to him.

he was probably coerced into making a presentation at the Rodney conference, maybe he really would rather not have presented anything which is why he did what he did. still Horace's response was valid under the circumstances.

Finally Stero i myself have written papers on the fact that the Jamaican music model defies conventional notions of copyright and creativity, i've said that the trend towards live performance and the relative unimportance of record sales etc was pioneered here so i'm one step ahead of you there bro'

thanks for your thoughtful and provocative comments!

Anonymous said...

Sorry if the names used offended readers or host...that definately was not my intention. Let me state for the record Mr. Seaga is one of the nicest persons someone could ever meet. He has a certain old school charm and mystique. I have always admired politicians like Mr. Seaga and Anthony Johnson.

Additionally, Ms. Paul I certainly know about your writings on the 'unconventional' jamaican music model. In fact I think our last discussion on the subject was when we walked to a session at SALISES's conference in honour of Prof. Girvan.

Peace and love, Stero

Jason said...

I think I'm with Stero on copyright. The whole intellectual property system benefits the giant cultural corporations of the first world. Sure, crumbs may drop down the table leg to entrepreneurs, authors and artists in Jamaica. But in essense copyright is monopoly capitalism cunningly disguised as a form of protection for vulnerable creators.

In this context, what's interesting is how Jamaica's no-copyright system has fostered perhaps the most efficent creative economy in the world. Where else can you find such participation in music making; what other country has produced so many records per head of population?

Copyright reformers have been using the example of 'open source' software recently. But they would do well to check out the history of Jamaica's recorded music industry. It suggests that culture and entrepreneurship can flourish without copyright. What's more Ja's system of collective authorship in music provides a model of where creativity might go in the future: the version trounces the original.

The danger is that Jamaica's system is now threatened by the TRIPS agreement, an attempt by the giant rights owning corporations and their first world government proxies to impose draconian IP regimes around the world. So I'd urge JAMCOPY (hey Annie) to resist - reverse di ting.


Annie Paul said...

Lawd i can't thank you both enough for raising these really critical questions and comments. You've armed me for the IFFRO discussions. promise to raise them and report on responses etc in my next post...

Stero! it's you! hallelujah! i would have dearly liked feedback from you on my paper "The Turn of the Native: Vernacular Creativity in the Caribbean" which though claiming the Caribbean is my take on the jamaican music model. its too late now, its going to appear in the Cultures and Globalization series volume on creativity and globalization which will come out in 2009 (Sage london)...

still better late than never, so thanks Stero--we should have a coffee one day--let me know when...

Ruthibelle said...

I sincerely hope that you will update us on the outcome of that meeting.

I, for one, am very interested.

Thanks for raising the issue though.

So much education I get from this blog...

Annie Paul said...

Thanks Ruthi, no i definitely will...what has caused a major tremor and is almost overshadowing all else here is the Google agreement that was announced yday re making books and whatnot freely available worldwide...

but what great comments i get! i love that line of jason's "The version trumps the original"...might use it as a title in future--