Modern copyright law still an aspiration
By Gaulbert Sutherland
Almost nine years after President Bharrat Jagdeo said that an updated copyright law was key to the country’s development and voiced his intention to have this in place by the following year, Guyana still has no modern legislation and renewed calls are being made for this in time for CARIFESTA.
But it is highly unlikely that such protection will be afforded to artistes and producers during the regional arts festival, which is due to be held in the latter part of August. Currently, there are consultations ongoing on a draft bill but Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport Dr. Frank Anthony told Stabroek News earlier this year that he did not believe that this would be completed in time for CARIFESTA.
Notwithstanding this, the Guyana Art and Craft Pro-ducers Association (GACPA) is planning to present a petition to the Culture Ministry shortly in an effort to have some form of protection available for locally produced work before the festival.
Back in 1999, President Jagdeo had said that updated copyright laws were key to the country’s development and had stated that he intended to have a draft bill, in circulation at the time, in place by the following year. This, however, has not materialized. Questioned on this last week, former Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Gail Teixeira said that the opposition of a group to the draft bill back in 1999 had an impact on it not being laid in parliament.
Copyright infringement is rampant in Guyana and over the years, various artistes and other persons have raised concerns about the lack of such legislation and its effects on their livelihood. Many have left these shores stating that they could not make a living here because of the dearth of such laws.
There have been calls made by persons questioning the effects the lack of such laws would have on artistic works during the regional festival and local entertainer, Rudy Grant, in a letter to this newspaper last year, had said that artistes should boycott Mashramani and CARIFESTA unless copyright laws are enforced. The GACPA too, is calling for some form of copyright protection before the regional festival comes to Guyana.
General Secretary of the association, Denzil Hollingsworth said that with CARIFESTA coming to Guyana’s shores, protection for the works of local artistes and craft producers is vital. She said that the association is seeking copyright protection for local music, crafts and other items produced here and has signed a petition, which they hope to present to the Culture Minister shortly. She said that they are hoping that something can be done before CARIFESTA “because we will have people coming from all parts of the world and we want to protect our stuff”. Hollingsworth alluded to the presence of Chinese-made craft on the market and said that at the moment, the 105-member association is focusing on the protection of locally made artistic works. She asserted that protection is critical so as to encourage continued production.
Local authors of books and textbooks have also complained bitterly about the theft of their work and bookstores have also been in the forefront of the campaign for an updated law.
Speaking with Stabroek News on the issue last week, Teixeira, who is now the Presidential Advisor on Governance, said that copyright has to do with a number of issues and at the time that she was Culture minister, the one-day consultation that was held on copyright had been focused on cultural issues. She said that at the time Anthony Vieira of the Independent Media Associa-tion had passionately opposed the bill. “It certainly had an impact”, she said, when asked whether this was the reason that it was not laid in parliament as planned.
However, when contacted, Vieira said that he had attended the consultation in his private capacity and as a TV station owner and declared that he had neither supported nor opposed the bill. He said that he had pointed out that that draft legislation was transcribed in a manner that excluded the then GBC and GTV from copyright infringement. “She (Teixeira) was saying that everyone would pay copyright except the GBC”, he stated adding that Teixeira promised that this would be rectified but was never done. He said that after this was pointed out the meeting broke up and another was never held. The television station owner said too that the bill had sought to discriminate between protection for locally produced works and foreign ones and declared that what applied to one had to apply to all.
Meantime, Teixeira stated that copyright was not only about protecting music and artistes but encompasses other aspects such as trademarks as well and is made up of different types of legislation. She said that the consultation held at the Umana Yana in 1999 was to deal with issues relating to culture and a number of recommendations had been made. But, she noted, the issue of an independent regional Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) to collect and pay out royalties, was a bugbear, not only in Guyana but in the Caribbean.
The Presidential advisor noted though that the Deeds Registry has a copyright desk, where copyright can be registered. “Copyright means nothing unless you register what you have produced”, she said.
Speaking on the issue back in 1999, Jagdeo had said that the priority given to have the legislation enacted was not driven by any pressure on his government to do so. “There is no pressure that I am aware of, with the exception that I feel that it is needed to be in place for our country to move forward”, he had stated. He had said that he found it necessary for the development of some sectors such as “the music industry, the computer software (industry), and some other areas. That’s why I am putting it up as a priority, not because of any pressure.”
The legislation would have replaced the existing Act, which is substantially the 1956 Copyright Act of the United Kingdom insofar as it forms part of the Laws of Guyana. The UK has since updated its Copyright Act and several CARICOM states such as Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia and Belize have enacted copyright legislation. Guyana is a signatory to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and is also a member of the World Intellec-tual Property Organization (WIPO).
Trinidad implemented a modern law several weeks ago and it has already begun to have an effect on persons who sell pirated DVDs. (See story on page 5.)
Dr. Anthony had told this newspaper earlier this year that the issue could be approached in two ways, either by making incremental changes to existing legislation or more comprehensive changes and because of the many implications of such laws, discussions had still been ongoing. It is not clear at which stage the consultations are at now.
Copyright law, basically seeks to protect the owners of intellectual property of all kinds so that they can benefit from their creations. This includes literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, sound recordings, films, broadcasts and cable programmes. The law provides that no one may reproduce these without the permission of the owner of the copyright who is often the author but may be the publisher, broadcaster or other person. In most cases, those persons will require a payment of a fee as a price for giving their consent. These fees vary in different circumstances.