Thursday 21st April 2005


Giving licence to the crime of piracy

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By Caroline Ravello

Piracy is a crime. Those who participate in it are criminals no less than the drug traffickers, murderers and perpetrators of more commonly accepted offences.

Those who purchase pirated material act as accessories, aiding and abetting a criminal act.

The laws of T&T make provision for a minimum charge of $100,000 or ten years’ imprisonment for the illegal copying and distribution of copyrighted works.

It is not a victimless crime either, as in the end, a country’s creativity pays the price when artistes refuse to produce new works or relocate to jurisdictions that offer a greater degree of protection and reward for creativity. Economies consequently, will also be affected.

Piracy is an international scourge. The power of the defence against it lies in the collaborative effort of governments, the protective services, the judiciary, Customs and consumers who drive demand.

While it is a legal issue in T&T, the agencies involved in collective management (The Copyright Organisation of T&T—Cott) and the T&T Copyright Organisation—TTCO) continue to carry the burden of those they represent.

Recently, an initiative on the part of the TTCO geared toward selling a licence to pirates “that will allow them (pirates) to sell copyrighted music” came in for much discussion by members of the creative industry.

Dr Vijay Ramlal, president of the TTCO, in defence of his organisation’s enterprise, said that those artistes he represents “are in total agreement with the licensing of pirates to sell their music,” and it is on that basis that the TTCO is moving ahead with its plans.

This announcement followed swiftly on Shadow’s revelation that he was not recording works for Carnival 2005, joining the likes of David Rudder and Ella Andall whom, to a large extent, had taken away their creativity from our festival in subsequent years.

Except in this instance, Ramlal prefers to refer to the pirates as “salesmen” and “entrepreneurs” whom he says, are not averse to “plying their trade ‘legally’ if they are given the opportunity.”

The TTCO represents approximately 1,500 musical works, mostly local and comprising mainly chutney and gospel. Cott represents over 15 million works which includes local and international repertoire of all genres.

It is no extraordinary feat, though, that TTCO can have its members support for initiative as a solution to the issue of piracy. There is a view that because of the lack of airplay for local music, the pirates are in fact doing the artistes a service. Some artistes have voiced that they feel “proud” that pirates deem their work to be sufficiently “valuable” to form part of illegal compilations.

The reality is that these are in the minority and normally the demand for their work is at the lower end.

Annabelle Davis, attorney for TTCO says that the idea offers support to young artistes of all genres who have their music and are not given airplay.

Some, however, view the idea of licensing a pirate as the type of enthusiasm that brings “grief, a level of corruption that mocks justice” and in essence makes anyone who engages in creativity a victim of a crime that acts against the virtue of hard work and financial investments.

ACP Winston Cooper

“Aiding and abetting” is what ACP Winston Cooper says.

In an immediate response Cooper said, “So long as Vijay Ramlal is certain that his actions do not encourage the pirates to continue prostituting the works of creators and producers; so long as his actions would not compromise the integrity of the law and its intention, then he is in his right.” However, he says that if in fact Ramlal’s actions contravene the law, the police “would deal with the matter accordingly.”

Cooper expressed doubts that this “arrangement is in tangent with the tenets of the Copyright Act of T&T.”

Senator Danny Montano

Legal Affairs Minister Danny Montano responded: “I’ll have none of that; that’s my comment on that matter.”

Montano conceded that TTCO, in fact, “can give a licence based on the works of the artistes they represent once they have the consent of the artistes” but that must be made clear to the pirates.

When asked of his view about the granting of a licence to an illegal operation Montano said, “A pirate is a pirate,” and agreed with my suggestion that an illegal activity cannot be legitimised with a licence.


Property Office

Nicholas Lue Sue, technical information specialist of the IPO, Ministry of Legal Affairs said that while TTCO can give a licence on behalf of his members, “such a licence is bound to be the subject of abuse by pirates knowingly or inadvertently.”

He raised the question of whether “it will be used as a cover for music not covered in TTCO’s repertoire.”

Christophe Grant,

President, Cott

Grant said that the giving of “letters/certificates of comfort” is predicated on the basis of ‘if you can’t win them, join them’.” But he said, “piracy requires more creative forms of control that would not compromise the industry in the long term.”

Referring to the editorial of Sunday Guardian (November 28) titled “Copyright farce that’s killing soca,” Grant said that the arguments put forward were bent more towards the issue of Internet piracy. And that while local artistes may be a victim of such activities our brand of piracy is more traceable and easier to control.

“These operations are funded by someone who has the resources for that type of investment,” Grant said.

“I have seen panel vans pull up on mornings and offload four/five carts. And if you look at some of these operations now they are becoming more hi-tech, with built-in speakers—someone’s funding it, that’s easy to trace.”

Grant says it requires the work of the Customs who in fact should be able to identify importers of specialised equipment. He believes that the enforcement/prosecution issue must be simplified by the amendment of the act and that magistrates must become sensitive to the artistes’ plight and make people pay.

“Even making an example of a few to establish the seriousness of the matter. And penalising sufficiently, taking into consideration compensation for the artistes whose works were stolen,” he suggests.

“Piracy in T&T is not devious and untraceable, it is very tangible. It must be driven underground and the law must make provisions for both ‘pusher and purchaser’ to be prosecuted. Until then it is effrontery...” Grant said.

“We’re hurting.”

Gillian Lucky,


Writing in Guardian (December 3) Lucky said “ It is unfortunate that instead of cracking down on pirates, the TTCO has decided to embark on a ‘novel’ approach to deal with piracy, namely, taking from pirates a certain percentage of the pirates ill-gotten monthly income... One can only hope that good sense will prevail and that TTCO would reconsider its position and retract its suggestion.”

Allison Demas,

Cott’s CEO

When contacted Demas expressed concern for the fact that the chutney artistes and their work amount to a lesser part of the copyrighted works noting that Cott represents 15 million works of music through collective/bilateral agreements with other countries. She pointed out Cott’s jurisdiction is much more than local music/genres and that it also includes chutney music.

Demas said, “Having a pirate pay a licence may even lead them (pirates) to believe and act as though they represent all of the copyrighted works.

LeRoy Clarke, artist

As a creator and one who professes to have his work influenced by Shadow’s music, Clarke expressed sympathy for the plight of the artistes.

Clarke said, “My heart really hurt me to see the boldfacedness of people publicly stealing from other people’s virtue. Robbing those who sincerely work.”

He said, “I am distressed by that kind of disrespect for those who really toil, and the police right there!”

Clarke believes that piracy is a crime that has the support of big business.



Collective management is the exercise of copyright and related rights by organisations acting in the interest and on behalf of rights owners.

Composers, writers, musicians, singers, performers and other talented individuals are among society’s most valuable assets.

The fabric of our cultural lives is enriched by their creative genius. In order to develop their talent and encourage them to create, we have to give those individuals incentives, namely remuneration in return for permission to make use of their works.

Collective management organisations are an important link between creators and users of copyrighted works (such as radio stations) because they ensure that, as owners of rights, creators receive payment for the use of their works.

This article was published on December 19, 2004, in the Sunday Guardian.

Caroline Ravello is a director of Copyright Organisation of T&T.




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