Protect your property
Let's Talk ReggaeSunday, September 05, 2021
with Maxine Stowe
As a global cultural influencer in the worlds of entertainment and lifestyle brands, the intellectual property rights embodied in Jamaican creative expressions — music, culture brands, companies and identifiers — have achieved acclaim despite not being protected. This has resulted in unfettered cultural appropriation.
The roots of this can be traced through the history of our Copyright Act, where works not protected are titles by themselves, names, short phrases, slogans, ideas, concepts, processes, principles or procedures, methods, factual information. Alongside these has been the registration of companies without the specific assignment of creative rights, which has left these works without the support of the law.
The brand and cultural values promoted by our music copyrights have been unprotected and are without trademark registration locally or internationally. This is underscored by a lack of assignments under registered companies. This lack of understanding of the value and procedure surrounding intellectual property and trademarks, both as Government and society, has cost us dearly.
The gap analysis of companies registered by music industry individuals shows a similar value misconception as their creative works are not literally registered and/or protected under these companies because of a lack of understanding of them not being automatically assigned is the major fault line of “Music Estates”, thus thwarting intergenerational wealth transfer.
I have been involved with several music intellectual property owners throughout my career as I turned inward focusing and advocating for a National Music Museum to harness the rights as a means of securing and repatriating a good slice of the international value chain. Informed by my instructive and foundation relationship with the blueprint catalogue of Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd and Jamaica Recording and Publishing Studio Limited, also known as JAMREC, I was also to get involved with The Wailers as a seminal group from his catalogue up to their career at Island Records, where they then launched as solo acts Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, and established their labels Wail N Soul M and Tuff Gong.
The same can be said of the works of the foundation members of the band The Skatalites, who, as musicians, supplied the music for the foundation labels of Coxsone, Duke Reid and Prince Buster.
With dancehall music's ascendancy as a genre from the 1980s I witnessed the global explosion of this music and lifestyle through the efforts of artiste/producer Sugar Minott as he also promoted artistes and musicians with his Black Roots & Youthman Promotion brand and companies.
A UNESCO Reggae Intangible Cultural Heritage Declaration in 2018 was pursued that identified that Jamaican music, in its totality, is worthy of safeguarding protection and promotion — a clear indication of its status. How this is to be achieved without the trademarks associated being retroactive remains unclear. The descriptor “reggae” for all of Jamaican music's genres itself is a trademark misnomer.
Recently the trademark issue has been highlighted in Snoop Dogg's documentary Reincarnated, which explores reggae and Rastafari culture and his transformation into Snoop Lion. He — more likely than not — took the title and music of the track Reincarnated Souls by Bunny Wailer, despite no agreement. There was also multiple uses of Rastafari concepts in his documentary film. He also incorporated a Rastafari ceremony in the film and took titles and slogans and trademarked them and created goods and services with his company and sporting goods giant Adidas. Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO), the agency charged with administering intellectual property systems, ruled against the local creators.
The issue of Bob Marley and the Wailers and Toots and the Maytals as titles created by the writing, singing and performing vocalists of groups, as also the value of the song titles that they created in their careers, is another area of major contention related to these gaps that fuel unfettered and unfair valuations of contributors' creative rights.
After years of lobbying, a Madrid Protocol — a convenient and cost-effective solution for registering and managing trademarks worldwide — is to be signed here in some time before the end of this year. The Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement concerning the International Registration of Marks, also known as the Madrid Protocol is the global treaty, which is administered by the International Bureau of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), facilitates the process of registration by trademark owners in multiple member countries by virtue of filing a single application in any of those territories.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of The Wailers' Catch A Fire and Burnin' albums in 2023 it must be noted that these musical projects are only identified and celebrated by the public as being the work of one member — Bob Marley — excluding the other two members of the trio Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. These many layers of misunderstanding require active policy integration, education and activation so that our people will have a deeper understanding of the history and culture.
Another area which requires our immediate attention is our nascent ganja industry. A long-time identifier with Rastafari and the Jamaican experience, this sector has had issues getting off the ground. A major one being lack of a defining policy around intellectual property rights of the Rastafari community, Rastafari reggae artistes and their brands, as well as the growers of unique strains. There should be something put in place for these groups who have, over the years, kept the 'industry' alive — albeit illegal — which will give them a slice of the pie and not kick them to the curb after they have done the groundwork and blazed the trail in favour of the larger, monied multinationals.
As Jamaica approaches its 60th anniversary of political independence come next year, it is these matters which must come to the fore to be dealt with considering that they are some of the building blocks of this nation. Hopefully these contradictions will create a perfect storm at some point and provide the setting for solutions to be discussed.
Maxine Stowe is a music culture executive with over four decades of continued contributions to the local and international music industry working with an enviable list of artistes, labels, and producers including VP Records, Columbia Records, Island Records and Tuff Gong. The niece of music legend Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd, widow of reggae artiste Sugar Minott, managing partner of the estate of the late Bunny Wailer, and consultant to Jimmy Cliff, Stowe is deeply steeped in Jamaica's music industry. Her reach and influence played a major role in globalisation of dancehall music during the 1980s and 90s. She continues to exert influence through associations with SunPower Records, SKD Records, The Rastafari Millennium Council, Rasta Ganja Global Limited, and the Ganja Growers and Producers Association. Stowe is passionate about intellectual property rights based on the experiences of those around her.