View Full Version : Rastafarianism, Dancehall & Intellectual Property Rights

22-03-2005, 04:34 AM
I've been reading some material examining dancehall production in Kingston, with the goal of providing some insight into the post-P2P, digital music industry - that is, examining a system built up around riddims, the blending and creative appropriation of others' music, rather than the Western-pop domination 'cult of personality', valorization of the romantic artist and so on.

Evidently, much of this sort of cut'n'mix culture is given space by the lax attitude to musical ownership and property rights in Jamaica, apparently tied in significant ways to Rastafarian belief structures and their embedded legacy within the musical tradition from roots through to dancehall. However, according to one article I've found, this original open structure is now in the process of being regulated to a much greater extent. Moving toward a more proprietary driven model, in particular;

"Recent generations of industry actors, often heavily influenced by US rap and hip-hop culture and role models, are most often highly motivated by the lure of financial rewards and are overwhelmingly in favour of the international model of musical production and copyright as it tends to secure much higher rewards for them."

Organizations such as the Jamaican Federation of Musicians and Affliated Artistes and the Jamaican Associations of Composers, Authors and Publishers are, apparently, working to 'improve' matters.

Some questions then - maybe Stelfox might be able to answer or point in the direction of some resources -
what specific aspects of Rastafarianism work against IP? To what extent do Rasta beliefs still play a role in contemporary Dancehall? What's the basic picture on producers being able to retain and secure sales or royalties?

Or, you know, just add general comments...

matt b
22-03-2005, 09:42 AM
there was no jamaican copyright law until the early 90s, so everything was 'open source' and available for versioning. i would guess it continues now for cultural reasons (not specifically rastafarian culture- i don't know HIM's views on intellectual property).


john eden
22-03-2005, 09:54 AM
There was a bit of a storm kicked up in 2000 when Coxsone and some others started talking about copyright on their riddims. I don't think it went anywhere though.

Most of the issues with copyright are through licencing - i.e. people licencing tracks that they have no right to, or have already given the rights to other people. Trojan, notably, have been accused of releasing records in the past (allegedly etc) based on dodgy contracts which meant that the artists would not be paid for releases. So I know there have been a large number of lawsuits in France (and elsewhere?) around that.

Also, you have to bear in mind that historically musicians were treated as "day labourers" or session musicians who would receive a one off payment for recording, but no royalties. I think it is this and the general business/hustling culture - rather than rastafarianism which has an impact on IP in JA, but I would be happy to be wrong. Coxsone and Duke Reid were never rastas...

Royalties and bootlegging probably occupy people's minds more than reversioning riddims, I would think.

22-03-2005, 10:36 AM
Also, you have to bear in mind that historically musicians were treated as "day labourers" or session musicians who would receive a one off payment for recording, but no royalties. I think it is this and the general business/hustling culture - rather than rastafarianism which has an impact on IP in JA, but I would be happy to be wrong. Coxsone and Duke Reid were never rastas...

this culture of day labouring still seems to exist in the contemporary dancehall world. if you want a big name artist to voice your riddim, you pay something like a $2000 one off fee for them to do a voicing. only if the riddim, or their cut in particular, then goes on to be a big hit will you hear from them or their lawyers regarding royalty payments and so on.

i heard that the copyright / ip thing was coming into effect in jamaica to the extent that whoever made the original riddim could then assert their rights over any subsequent versions. don't know whether this has happened or been enforced but studio one and treasure isle would be even more dominant if this was the case...

Randy Watson
22-03-2005, 11:03 AM
I don't think I'm deviating too much from thread but an equally interesting question is why there were no IP laws in place prior to independence? It's relevant because the recent moves to change have been delayed in part by inertia. Perhaps racist colonial assumptions regarding the ability of the people to produce worthwhile art?

The lack of a legal infrastructure prior to the establishment of the Jamaican music industry coupled with quickly established and entrenched vested interests would contribute to inertia. Plus a lot of the real money got made on export so the govt were getting paid and had little incentive to legislate. A very poor and easily exploitable pool of artists. Perhaps all these are factors.

I couldn't claim to know enough about Rastafarianism to comment on attitudes to intellectual property vs collective ownership. I don't think the Dreads would have any direct influence on govt policy though. If they did weed would be legal before IP right were established :)

22-03-2005, 01:19 PM
more often than not, when an old studio 1 riddim (for example) is re-versioned, coxsone dodd gets a writing credit, which i've always imagined implies that he/his estate has been getting some kind of royalty payment. (though of course, coxsone himself rarely if ever wrote the music, but he 'owns' all those riddims through having put up the money for their production, releasing them, owning the studio, hiring the labourers/musicans etc). maybe it's just a nod to studio 1 though without any money changing hands.

either way, i've never heard that any of this resulted from rastafarian beliefs.

22-03-2005, 03:02 PM
solely down to economics, nothing to do with rastafari.

22-03-2005, 04:10 PM
i'd be interested in hearing more on this subject -- or perhaps i should look into it myself!!!

i recently applied for a lawyer job with ASCAP -- not that i'm dying to "work for the man," just that the man is the provider of most jobs out there -- though I suspect I blew the interview by stating my opinion that people who make mixes publicly available over the internet should not be held liable to the copyright owner b/c the mixes serve a "journalistic" purpose and more often than not promote sales

I think (i.e,. this is basically uninformed *speculation*) that ASCAP takes the position that anyone who posts mixes should (1) have a special license to do so, w/ the amount of the license fee determined by the number of hits the website or mix gets; and that (2) all mixes posted on the internet should be amenable only to listening but not to downloading, o/w the person who posts the mix should be held liable not only for the performance but also the illegally downloaded copy . . . .

(also blew the interview by not being terribly well-versed in the tracking technology that record companies have available to trace instances and determine culprits of copyright violation -- evidently there's lots of technology out there -- and the enforcement strategy is to make *examples* out of copyright infringers, i.e., the amount for which an infringer is held liable may far exceed the actual economic damage he has done to the artist or record company, b/c it'd simply be too costly for ASCAP to sue all infringers -- indeed this is how Copyright Act works in general, i.e., there's a statutory damages provision)

ANYWAY what's so contradictory about all of this is that the overarching rationale for having copyright protection, at least under the U.S. Constitution, is utilitarian, i.e., to "promote the arts and sciences" -- the rationale is not to protect the property and rights of artists and record companies as such -- AND YET which country produces more music per capita than any other -- JAMAICA!!!!!

22-03-2005, 04:21 PM
hey mika -- can you suggest one or two articles on this subject, i.e., the IP issue in reggae/dancehall industry? -- thanks

22-03-2005, 10:31 PM
'Profiting from Creativity? The music industry in Stockholm, Sweden and Kingston, Jamaica', Environment and Planning A, 2002, vol. 34, p. 1833 - 1854.

This article isn't very good - it comes from an economic/creative industry and policy angle - totally disregarding the cultural dimension of music production/consumption, not to mention the problematics of comparing Western European nations with postcolonial, borderline third-world scenarios. However, I stumbled onto it through Andrew Leyson's discussions of gift economies and P2P - particularly, his conclusion 'bout how artists are to make a living if recordings are potentially free. One argument is through live performance -

"Performance is also the modius operandi of musical economies such as that of Jamaica, where the nature of civil society means that copyright is only ever partially enforced. The lack of copyright protection has produced a high-speed musical economy where ideas and styles are 'borrowed' without impunity, thereby placing much greater emphasis upon live performance to differentiate one act from another"

Also, this book - Vaidhyanathan S, Copyrights and Copywrongs: the Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity, New York University Press, 2001 - also deals with IP and JA, but I haven't got around to reading it, so can't say if it's very useful.

I'm sure that there's much more...

23-03-2005, 04:22 AM
Oh - in it's favour, that first one starts with a cool quote from 'Redemption Song' though, "Old pirates, yes, they rob I; sold I to the merchant ships."

Songs of freedom!