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We the people

SUZANNE MILLS Sunday, February 17 2013

Everyone has the rights to Carnival except the people. Pan Trinbago cuts off our Panorama semi-finals; a newly formed, unknown copyright organisation warns revellers not to post pictures of themselves or their friends online; the NCBA and the government station wrangle over the streaming of the Parade of the Bands. It’s as if the copyright pendulum has swung completely in the opposite direction with copyright now intersecting with and infringing on people’s basic rights.

This is not about freeness. If I buy a Carnival costume surely I am entitled to have a picture taken of it, post the photo on Facebook and show it to who I please. Or if I am walking through the streets on Carnival Tuesday and come upon a piece I like, does copyright prevent me from shooting the photo and posting it on my Facebook page? The majority of Facebook users are not looking to make a profit; it is a social network, founded on the concept that communicating and sharing experiences are fundamental components of human instinct and behaviour. The “copyright” warning is also futile as Facebook is unlikely to shut down hundreds if not thousands of sites on the copyright body’s say so. Facebook postings provide free publicity for these bands—they are short-sighted and behind the times.

Rights, rights, rights! Government, as in we the people, contributed approximately $100 million to sustain Carnival 2013 yet organisations wish to further bleed the nation by demanding that the State-owned media pay exorbitant rates to air or stream the shows, which are sponsored by the State. In order to pay for those rights, Government´s TV station sells hundreds of adverts which cut into our viewing time. On Carnival Monday and Tuesday we were subjected to ad after ad for two comedy festivals even as revellers were on stage. Mac Farlane´s presentation ended abruptly, cut off for adverts.

I would argue that our right to watch Carnival on TV or online has already been paid for in spades. Why should we be handing out more money to see shows organised by bodies incapable of putting on a show or a competition without the aid of the State? Government must expend huge sums on Carnival to support “we” culture but the “we” is really the producers and the promoters. However, until Carnival is self-sustaining or underwritten by the private sector the rights to it belong to we, the people. It is we who provide the generous prize monies, the construction of the stage, the booths, and the support for the production. None of the shows would survive without us.

The NCBA has accused the government station of wanting to make a profit off of it, but it pays not one cent to cross the stage built by government, nor a toll to jump on the nation´s streets. The prize money comes from the State. In these regards, it sees nothing free about Carnival; its sole concern is its rights. But there is no sense of duty to the public who fund the shows. The moment may be ripe for new rules. Perhaps the bands need to relocate to a private venue, charge would-be spectators entrance fees and seek corporate funding for their prizes and parade.

The new copyright organisation also wants to levy the media for printing photos of revellers in newspapers, surely an infringement of press freedom — the media is at liberty to cover a street festival. Ironically, every year reporters are invited to attend promotional band launches where prototypes of costumes are on display, which the media are encouraged to photograph and promote. The bands crave free pre Carnival publicity, but the media must pay to highlight them at Carnival time. For the record, many revellers pose for the cameras and long to see themselves in the “papers” come Ash Wednesday morning.

Owning the copyright for a work of art or music does not preclude largesse, and culture can be more than the bottom line. At times it is priceless. There is no denying that artists and artistes have died paupers because they had no copyright protection. However the modern artist safeguarded by copyright laws, still has the freedom to choose whether to perform or stage a show for free without losing that copyright. Many artistes post copies of their songs online, acknowledging that the Internet is the sure path to a piece of music going viral. Just prior to the major award shows in the US, films are surreptitiously released to pirate sites by studios for promotional purposes.

If Carnival organisations are going to deprive us of our rights or charge the State exorbitant rates to air the shows on TV or online, if a little known copyright body can seek to ban the media and the revellers from taking pictures of the street parade, then the time has come for we the people to stop footing the bill for Carnival. Then we’ll see who has rights.

www.suzannemills.net

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