BitDepth 819 - January 31

The Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago hosts a panel discussion on copyright.
Artists contemplate copyright
WIPO consultant Mary-Ann Richards speaks to Art Society members at NAPA about copyright issues. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay

Last week, the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago gathered members and interested parties for a panel discussion about copyright. The focus of many questions on details related to artist rights in their work and the misunderstandings that result was unsurprising.

The vigor of the discussion about photography rights and, possibly with a collective eye on Carnival, about the delicate dance of rights at play during the costumed presentations of the festival wasn’t something I’d expected at all.

Mary-Ann Richards, World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) consultant and Regional coordinator traced the evolution of copyright from its beginnings in the UK under the Statute of Anne of 1710 as a way of protecting the work invested in maps, charts and books through to the current state of play.

“Technology is a two-edged sword,” Richards warned. “There must be a balance between the interests of society and those of the creator.”
The law, the WIPO representative pointed out, is often too rigid and limited in today’s digital environment. Noting the problems that are likely to continue to arise with what she described as “internet intermediaries,” among them filesharing sites like the recently shuttered Megaupload.

“Change,” Richards said, “will be part legal, part infrastructure, part cultural change and part new business models. Technology is being driven by creative content. New models must embrace distribution, and they must include all stakeholders and not be monopolised by a powerful few.”

Allison Demas, former COTT CEO and now the boss lady of Media InSite, a media monitoring company, expanded on several points made by Mary-Ann Richards, observing that copyright is very much a western idea.

Demas noted that copyright law in Trinidad and Tobago has some unique characteristics. For one, copyright is vested with the creator on creation in Trinidad and Tobago, the work doesn’t have to be expressed or fixed in tangible form, a marked difference from the system in the US and UK, which require registration of works for full protection.

Trinidad and Tobago is also the only country that protects “works of mas,” a collective creation category that specifically targets the unique creative products of Carnival.
Demas sought to clarify in the minds of the audience a hierarchy of rights, beginning with the creator of the work, moving onto situations in which rights are either fully or partially transferred, in the case of an employee, commissioned works, collective works, works of mas and audiovisual works, such as films.

“Our creative sector is growing faster than tourism and agriculture,” Demas said, noting that copyright based industries contributed 2.9 per cent of the GDP and 4.4 per cent of all jobs in 2011.
“Where,” she asked, “is the investment in the sector?”

The discussion period of the event proved equally revelatory. Most of the questions tended to be quite specific, detailing with details of copyright application instead of the larger issues that the panel, which also included former Art Society chair Courtenay Williams and UWI art lecturer Kenwyn Crichlow, sought to explore.

In the end, the event meandered into the incident specific advice search that’s symptomatic of a poor understanding of the sweep of copyright issues.
The role of the Trinidad and Tobago Reprographic Rights Society as a player in clarifying infringements also seemed unclear, though Allison Demas championed their mission to become an administrator of collective rights for visual arts content.

The group at NAPA seemed less a referendum for such services and more an indicator of the need for more active education and representation of visual artists in the digital copyright stew of 2012.

Works of Mas defined
A “work of mas” is an original production intended to be performed by a person or a group of persons in which an artistic work in the form of an adornment or image presented by the person or persons is the primary element of the production, and in which such adornment or image may be accompanied by words, music, choreography or other works, regardless of whether the production is intended to be performed on stage, platform, street or other venue.

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