Aug 28, 2010 Editorial
About a decade ago, singer Rudy Grant moved to the courts to protest what he saw as the copyright infringement of a song he had composed. A local advertising agency had used this song in one of its advertisements without Grant’s express permission.
Grant lost the case because of some caveat in the laws concerning copyright in Guyana. That law was written during the era of the postal services. It had to do with telegraphy and subsequent broadcasts by wireless systems. Newspapers also have a law, but this is observed more in the breach. A look at every newspaper would reveal that they all lift from the Internet, stories published elsewhere and publish these sometimes with attribution.
There are music carts selling compact discs with music recorded by artistes, most of them international. These are illegal recordings and infringe on the copyrights of the singers and composers.
Even the local radio station is guilty. The law stipulates that the radio station keep a log of the music played and pay money to the artiste by way of copyright. This is not done.
All the television stations pirate material with impunity and callously rebroadcast them. This is not done anywhere else. In Trinidad and Tobago, there is strenuous adherence to the copyright laws to the extent that they have an arrangement with the producers whose work they rebroadcast.
It is the same in Jamaica and in Barbados. Visitors from those countries always remark at the currency of the material broadcast in Guyana and question whether we do adhere to the copyright laws.
People have come from the United States to halt this trend but they have found that the cost is not worth it, so they simply mutter and continue as though it is business as usual.
Eddy Grant once remarked that had he been living in Guyana he would not have made money from his music. In fact, no local musician can expect to make a living so he heads overseas. He ignores his losses in Guyana.
And so we come to the trade in books. Cuba, in the midst of its economic blockade, acquired textbooks which it printed for distribution within its borders. The international community complained,but there was nothing that they could do except call for further sanctions. Cuba still continues to do this since it cannot buy the requisite books for its students.
In Guyana, for years, given our financial situation and the drive by some entrepreneurs to make money, we have been reprinting books published elsewhere. We pay nothing to the original publishers and we simply reap the benefits at a cost to the publishers.
A letter writer in Kaieteur News had cause to note this trend. His cause was rooted in a denial by the Education Minister that he was aware of any copyright infringement. This letter writer wrote, “The Minister of Education, Mr Shaik Baksh has strenuously denied any knowledge of massive copyright infringement of official textbooks and the issuing of contract by the Ministry of Education to a known textbook pirate to supply illegally copied textbooks to the nation’s school children.”
The wider society, struggling with the real costs of material, would not voice any objection to such copyright infringements. They are not going to weigh the moral issues and come down on the right side. For them, any cost-cutting measure is enough.
Minister Baksh is aware of the issue, but for public consumption, he has denied all knowledge. We will not examine the rectitude of the Minister here, except to say that he is a part of the society that refused to pay attention to the laws.
It may not be by accident that our administrators are refusing to introduce the necessary legislations to curb this trend. There is therefore no Broadcast Legislation, despite the promises, and there is still to be modern copyright legislation.
The local entertainment industry—including radio and television—cannot exist if such legislation should come. It was the absence of such legislation that brought about the demise of the cinema which flourished everywhere else.
Yet, as a country in a modern world, and one which aspires to sit with the other democracies, we must do something. The government is going to consider the people it leads and their financial wherewithal at the expense of the embarrassment that we must face in the international arena.
And of course, there is still the threat of lawsuits that could prove so costly. Guyana, too, can be sanctioned and the very people being protected could suffer more.
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