A report released in March 2015 by the Jamaica Association of Composers Authors and Publishers (JACAP) indicates that several media houses are now before the Supreme Court facing charges of breaches of the copyright laws. The lawsuits were brought against them by JACAP which represents over two million creators of music worldwide, including over 3,400 Jamaicans.
The media houses before the courts in Jamaica include CVM Television Limited, Nationwide News, News Talk 93 FM, Grove Broadcasting Limited (IRIE FM & ZIP 103 FM), KLAS Sports Radio and Island Broadcasting Services Ltd. ‘Cease and Desist’ letters have also been written to Love FM, Sun City Radio, Mello FM, Bess FM, KC Gospel and Mega JAMZ FM.JACAP General Manager Lydia Rose notes, “The creators of music are unhappy with the illegal use of their works and have mandated JACAP to take violators to court for infringement of their copyright.”
JACAP was established in 1999 and has to date paid out over JA$180 million in royalties to its members. Under the 1993 copyright Act of Jamaica, all users of copyright music are required to get a license for the usage of music.
The JACAP GM said that after years of negotiating, several broadcasters still remain non-compliant, either making minimal contributions or refusing to sign a contract or make any payments. She further emphasized that users of music need to understand that the works/rights of the music creators must be respected as they are the foundation of the music industry and music events.
Steve Etienne, General manager of ECCO has taken note of the situation in Jamaica. He says, however, that litigation is always a long drawn out and expensive process and is always seen as a last resort. He agreed, however, that users of music must respect the rights of the creators and due compensation in the form of licenses and royalties must be remitted to the various collection agencies operating in the region.
ECCO Inc. (the Eastern Caribbean Collective Organization for Music Rights), a not-for-profit organization is a society of writers and publishers of music. Through reciprocal agreements with collective management organizations throughout the world (also called ‘societies’), ECCO represents and can license virtually the whole worldwide repertoire of copyright music for public performance, broadcast, cable transmission, online and mobile use in the OECS. Additionally, ECCO will license mechanical reproduction and synchronization rights on behalf of writer and publisher members.
According to Etienne, over the years broadcasters in Saint Lucia by and large have become more compliant when it comes to paying licenses. “We have done a fairly good job, first with HMS and now with ECCO, at sensitizing our broadcasters and the general public about the rights of the composers and writers,” he says. “However, the reality is that, as it stands now, our surplus for distribution for members is diminished the more legal action we take against infringers. Therefore, it is never something we like to do as members expect their royalty cheques to be meaningful. Instead, we implore persons to comply with the law and to sit and discuss with us if there are any issues,” he adds.
As the representative agency for some of the OECS islands including Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent, Antigua, St. Kitts and Saint Lucia, Etienne admits that ECCO does have challenges in some of the islands. “You find that these islands, who have not had the presence of a collection agency like ECCO representing copyright owners, are less inclined to comply. So again, we have to go in, sensitize, discuss and of course, when all else fails, we must take legal action on behalf of our members,” he stressed.
Here in Saint Lucia, where there are now more than twenty-five radio and television broadcasters, Steve Etienne says new threats and challenges have arisen. “What we see happening in Saint Lucia is that while there are more broadcasting stations and more music being played (members hear more of their music), the value of music, so to speak, has diminished. This is because there is now a race to the bottom by those stations that have to slash advertising rates in order to survive. So instead of our collections increasing from broadcasters, it has remained at basically the same level as it was ten years ago,” Etienne says.
In light of these challenges, his advice to music creators is to seek additional revenue streams and platforms for their music, besides mere airplay. He also believes that the creators should also always endeavour to create music that can be played and/or performed anywhere in the world. He also advises that members of the organization (ECCO) must become more aware of the issues in their various territories surrounding copyright and let their voices be heard when it comes to creation of a sound environment within which to operate by the powers that be. This would include the proper legal and legislative framework effectively enforced as well as the facilitation of a creative industry through public/private sector partnership.
“Having the support of the broadcasters, although essential, is only a small part of it,” Etienne states.