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Don't Stop the Party: Copyright Issues Threaten Trinidad Carnival Fete

The Carnival season is in full swing in Trinidad and Tobago – and for many, that signals constant partying or “feteing” – right up until the pre-lenten parade of bands is over and Ash Wednesday arrives.

One of the most anticipated fetes for the season is Soaka Till Sunrise which has been scheduled for this coming Sunday, February 2. Since January 14, the organizers of the fete, Wow Events, have been saying that the party was already sold out. Soaka was catapulted into popularity last year, when soca artiste Machel Montano filmed the video for his hit song “The Fog” at the party.

This has seemingly led to the increased demand for tickets to this year's event.

Fete-goers took to social media early, commenting jokingly on the demand for tickets:

Amidst the ticket frenzy, news broke yesterday that the Copyright Music Organization of Trinidad and Tobago (“COTT”) was threatening to shut down the fete, due to a dispute over a copyright license:

An excerpt of the pre-action protocol letter sent by COTT's attorneys was leaked to the media and posted on Twitter.

 This news sent potential party-goers into a panic, with many of them going online to vent:

One of the fete's organizers, Adrian Scoon, quickly responded to the news on his Facebook page:

Arite. So there are two copyright organizations in this country. COTT and TTCO. For many years COTT has had a monopoly on the market and has taken advantage of the promoter. Any promoter will tell you that when you go to COTT they charge you copyright fees based on ticket sales which is ludicrous and unlawful. 

This year we decided to go with TTCO and we have secured a copyright license for our event. We were actually recommended to them by other credible promoters. 

On hearing this COTT contacted us and threatened to shut down our event as they realized that yet another promoter has defected to their competitors. 

1. COTT is a private company and has no affiliation with the government. Therefore they cannot shut down any event. 

2. TTCO is an authorized copyright organization under the laws of Trinidad and Tobago. 

3. We have a copyright license 

4. We are going to sue COTT for wasting our time with this shit. 

5. I'm at the venue right now and SOAKA is gonna be off the chain.

The central issue in this matter is the recognition of competing copyright collection agencies in Trinidad and Tobago. The Trinidad and Tobago Copyright Collection Organization (TTCO) maintains on its Facebook page that it is a legitimate entity, and enjoys the same rights as COTT to offer licenses:

A Brief background on Trinidad and Tobago Copyright Collection Organization (TTCO):

  1. TTCO is a Non Profit Organization 
  2. TTCO is a Copyright Licensing Body Protects the unique area of copyright Works of Mas, Live Performances under Neighboring rights and Author Composer
  3. TTCO protects the rights of artistes and mas bands by licensing and paying royalties for their copyrighted works.

The debate generated discussion on the popular Trinidad Carnival Diary Facebook page. One commenter, Jenny Lin, noted:

COTT takes advantage of many small businesses as well for having a simple cd playing on computer speakers. They claim it goes back to the artistes. Yeah right. They charge us like 3xx a year

Whether COTT initiates an action in the Supreme Court of Trinidad & Tobago remains to be seen. The penalty for offences relating to unlawful public performances of any copyrighted work or sound recording is TT$250,000.00 (about $40,000 US) or 10 years imprisonment. Aggrieved parties may also be entitled to civil remedies, separate and apart form the penalties for the offense of infringement. 

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