Of Facebook, Trinis and Carnival
Reporting from London, New York and Port of Spain
Moves by some Trinidad Carnival organisers on Carnival Monday to block live streaming and uploading of photos for commercial use of the country’s annual two-day party left many in the diaspora fuming.
The Twitter, Facebook and text/SMS services turned as colourful as the carnival itself as people in New York, Toronto and London searched for ways to stay in touch with the Caribbean’s most prestigious event.
“Have we privatised Carnival?” asked one Monday night tweet.
At issue are comments made by the chief executive of the Trinidad and Tobago Copyright Collection Organisation (TTCCO), Richard Cornwall, in an interview with Trinidad’s Newsday newspaper.
He explained that the TTCCO was acting on behalf of the newly-formed National Carnival Development Foundation, which has vowed to deal with what it sees as “disrespect” of copyright laws for Trinidad’s music, performances, designs and creativity.
“Our creative works have been going out to different countries via different medium. Our mandate under the NCDF is to monetise it under the Works of Mas' laws,” Mr Cornwall told Newsday.
He pointed out that this did not stop the ordinary man in the street taking photos and posting them for friends and relatives.
It's about commercial use
Mr Cornwall explained that the TTCCO wanted to take issue with the commercial use of such material.
“If you take those photos and post them on Facebook, what you have done is give someone the option of graphics. They can pull these images and compile them in a magazine which could then be used for commercial gain. If that could be traced to your website page, you can be held accountable as the source for the act of infringement.”
The clampdown also put paid to live streaming of the Carnival Monday parade of the bands on several platforms which, according to the TTCCO, did not have the right licences.
One Trinidadian broadcaster took to Twitter on Monday to state: “I could hardly broadcast much today for fear of a lawsuit.”
Dedicated Trinidadian cultural channel Gayelle, which had broadcast early Monday coverage of the start of street partying at J’Ouvert in central Trinidad, had a broken link later in the day.
The UStream feed was blank, with a note along the side stating “link mode disabled”.
Where de band?
Meanwhile, frustrated Trinis in the UK, the US and Canada sent text, Twitter and Facebook messages across the day, appealing for links where they could view their annual festival back home.
The issue will not end with the partying on Ash Wednesday.
One Haitian-American journalist tweeted to Caribbean Intelligence @caribintelligen: “Can they even enforce this? That’s my question. Now we’re censoring #carnival.”
Overnight on Monday, New York-based Trinidadian journalist Kejan Haynes wrote an article after checking the legal side of Trinidad’s copyright laws.
“Once I stopped fuming over what I read in the Newsday on Carnival Monday [11 February 2013] Re: Don’t Post Carnival Pictures on Facebook, I decided to do some digging to see where Cornwall was basing his ‘advice’.
“Turns out he has a point. (From here on it gets very legal and technical so I’ll just do a spoiler alert and say, it’s probably ok to go ahead and post your pics on Facebook.)”
Kejan, who covered Trinidad Carnival for Caribbean Intelligence© in 2012, looked into the legal ownership of the Carnival costume in his latest article - this time from New York.
“The owner of this copyright is the person who created it - so the bands such as MacFarlane or Tribe. According to section 8(1)(g), the owner of copyright shall have the exclusive right to do, authorise or prohibit 8(1)(g) public display of the original or a copy of the work.
“Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t display your costume on the streets, they sold it to you, they authorised it. It’s so that you don’t wear your Tribe costume to a private photo shoot and then try to publish or sell the pictures,” he wrote.
“So where does Facebook stand with you posting pictures? Sadly they’re not very helpful. According to their FAQs on copyright:
“If you're not certain that you are legally authorised to use the content, do not upload it to Facebook. If you have done so already, you should remove it. If you don't own the copyright to content you wish to post, posting it without permission of the copyright holder might be a violation of the law.”
There’s more to Kejan’s research, which he shared with Caribbean Intelligence©.
“The streets of Trinidad and Tobago definitely constitute ‘public space’.
“Remember, the issue raised isn’t you posting your pictures online. It’s if your pictures are taken without permission and then used for financial gain. That’s why so many photographers place their watermark on their photos before posting them. It’s to keep people from stealing them. So unless you willing gave someone flagrantly copyrighted material, knowing fully well that they were going to cash in, you’re fine.
“That being said, if you can prove that someone else has used your pictures for financial gain, you have a better chance of getting remuneration because your intellectual property was stolen. “
As revellers took to the streets of Trinidad, Dominica and Haiti, Haiti Xchange introduced a controlled way to showcase their carnival to the Haitian diaspora, with a mix of live camera streaming and an early youth magazine programme taking calls from Haitians back home.
Dominica’s online media also continued to post photos and promote free live feeds from their annual party.
“I think I understand the psyche of the individuals who constitute the National Carnival Bands Association: they feel wronged,” wrote veteran Trinidadian journalist Tony Fraser on Carnival Tuesday morning.
“They feel they have missed out on decades of not receiving millions for their creative designs and so, whether by Facebook or live streaming of the parade of the bands (and they stopped one television station from streaming live unless they pay) they feel obligated to ‘get their little something’ (Black Stalin) from their creative designs. Actually, some of that creativity is at present under serious question. After all, not too much thought is involved in designing a bikini.”
"In this age of technology and consciousness of intellectual property," he continued, "the modern designers and their association must think, like our Spanish ancestors who came here in the 17th Century on their way to search for the mythical El Dorado, that there is live gold jumping on the streets on Carnival Monday and Tuesday and it’s time that they got their share of the flowing precious liquid."
In his column entitled Bandleaders in search of the mythical El Dorado, Tony writes: “In their wanderings (perhaps meanderings) for gold, the mas designers must also grieve at the failure of Trinidad and Tobago to patent the original steel pan so that the works of the original pan makers, Ellie Mannette, Neville Jules, “Spree” Simon, Anthony “Muff Man” Williams, Bertie Marshall and every pan-maker who pounded out the first notes on the oil and biscuit drums, could have been preserved and honoured with dollar returns.”
Another quote from Tony Fraser’s article: “Surely, they [bandleaders] must be rewarded under the copyright laws; but is this the best option, debarring from or penalising the Facebook generation?
“Incidentally, the masqueraders who spend tens of millions annually for the costumes and ‘permission to mash up de place’ with their stunning bodies, care nothing for the copyright business. They only want wining space and would be affronted if they are not captured on film, spread to all parts of the world and preserved for the time when they can wine no more; or if they can, they would no longer attract the attention they do now.”
Meanwhile, for the Twitter generation, the debate continued.
“Was not aware of the black market for Carnival photos,” another tweet to Caribbean Intelligence’s twitter feed said @caribintelligen.
For many people in parts of the US and the UK, watching the snows defrost, but with no live pictures of the party back home, one tweet summed it up: “Just stop reminding me I ain’t there!”
In a Carnival Sunday editorial, the Trinidad Guardian summed up what it called the copyrighting of carnival.
“The intellectual property of mas creators and performers must be protected, but Carnival is not a museum piece to be protected, it’s a living event that demands a greater appreciation of the synergies that can exist between presentation, documentation and audience, something that can only improve the reach and popularity of the festival."
The final word to Tony Fraser:
“The NCBA cannot seek to hide carnival costumes in a closet while holding the only keys to the door; they have to allow the world a glimpse, at least, of the Beauty in Perpetuity (Terry Evelyn in George Bailey’s Bats and Clowns), but find ways and means to benefit.
“This is the last Carnival band for modern master designer Brian McFarlane, he is seeking overseas markets for his creations: he will be looking for the pathways to dollars, having realised that a few copyright pennies will not bring him just rewards for his creations.”
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