On Intellectual Property Rights

I had the opportunity on May 22nd to read from my 2012 novel Oh Gad! during the opening ceremony of the Workshop on Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights for the Judiciary and Law Enforcement Officials. It was organized by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)  in cooperation with the Antigua and Barbuda Intellectual Property and Commerce Office (ABIPCO). This two day programme which attracted participation from regional jurists would, over two days, look at issues like Building Respect for Intellectual Property, Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, Trademarks, IP Awareness as a Non-Punitive Measure, Copyright, and Patents or Infringements over the Internet.

When Ricki Camacho, the Registrar here in Antigua and Barbuda, invited me to read, I angst’d over what section from my book would be appropriate to read to a group of eminent men and women more used to reading case law. Did they read for pleasure? But Ricki felt it was important that beyond looking at Articles of Law and Case Studies, they be exposed to the art and the artistes they are being asked to protect. Who else would be performing/reading, I wondered? Just me, apparently. No pressure or anything.

In the end, I settled on a combination of scenes dealing with the impact of a land development project on farmers. Was it serendipity that the selected reading ended with this line “…it’s a cause worth fighting for you know, holding on to who you are.” It felt like a good note to end things on and the justices seemed to agree as they quickly bought up all copies of the book available at the event and chatted with me about how much they enjoyed the reading. What an unexpected result.

Ricki emailed me that she’d like to do more of this kind of thing in the future, and she’s found a convert in me; I applaud her for thinking outside the box.

Because, here’s the thing, as a writer living and working in the Caribbean, I clearly am betting hard on the potential of the creative industries (beyond tourism, off shore banking and other industries that draw the lion’s share of the attention). A recent posting by Carolyn Cooper made a similar point. In it, she was responding to a critic of the reggae poetry course at the University of the West Indies. She wrote that the critic did “not appear to understand the principle that knowledge of one’s own history and culture has intrinsic value…the diversity of opportunities in the creative/cultural industries escapes her… (she) clearly has a very old fashioned view of culture. It’s something you do as a hobby. Culture couldn’t possibly be a serious business.”

Usually I’d say that Carolyn’s critic’s dismissal of arts and culture seems pretty similar to the attitude of our policy makers, and that cynical take may hold true in general, but clearly Ricki is determined to help lay the kind of foundation for artists that will help the society at large to see what they do as “serious business”. So, there are, as always, exceptions.

We need those exceptions to become the norm.

Because for those of us in the region, sharpening our skills and often sucking salt, daily, that is the dream: that just as a skilled debater can imagine him or herself as a litigator (or politician), a girl who imagines can dream herself a career as a storyteller whether on film, on stage, or on the page.

I am a writer. This writing takes two main paths.

There’s the writing I do for me which half the time finds its way out into the world as a short story or poem in a journal or a book like Oh Gad! In our market, there’s very little (and that’s being generous) protection offered to creators of this kind of content; in fact, I was compelled to register my manucript with the Library of Congress in the US before shopping it, though often we settle here as writers for the poor man’s copyright – i.e. sending the manuscript registered mail to yourself. Even with the upgrades to the law and there have been upgrades in the time that I’ve been active, not much has changed for writer in this regard.

There’s the writing I do as a for-rent freelancer, and the fresh battle each and every damn time over rights (with respect to the present and future use of the work across all formats i.e. not paying for print rights and then distributing electronically without compensation while effectively cutting into the freelancer’s future earnings).

Creativity – along either of these streams – takes time and application, that’s the case for all content creators. It is not a hobby to many of us; it is a passion yes, but it is also bread and butter (man, and woman, must eat). And that’s why it’s important for our copyright to be protected.

For more on Antigua and Barbuda’s copyright as it exists in law, see the Copyright Act of 2003. And, in case you missed it, here’s an article (one of several around the web) I’ve found useful re freelance writers and rights.

UPDATE: I also wanted to share this article by Kalamu Ya Salaam – ‘Get Published Not Exploited’ – something that we need to be reminded of especially when unpublished and desperate to kick through the door or previously published but desperate to put food on the table. Our work is our art; it is also our commerce; it has value and we need to remind ourselves and those who would exploit it of that.

SECOND UPDATE: This may also be of interest as it addresses double-use of freelance articles and/or use by unrelated entities, something I’m all too familiar with.

THIRD UPDATE: Another one from Writing World. And we can’t stress this enough: “Please note, as well, that an article does not actually have to bear a copyright notice to be protected. Under copyright law, your work is protected by copyright the moment you write it down. However, posting a copyright notice provides some extra levels of protection; perhaps most importantly, it makes it impossible for someone to claim that they “didn’t know” your work was protected.”  The Internet makes sharing an author’s work easier but as someone who has had to deal with infringement of my rights, come on, folks, respect an author’s copyright.

FOURTH UPDATE: I’ll keep posting these as I find them. This one’s on selling international rights.

FIFTH UPDATE: News about intellectual property rights agencies in the Caribbean region.

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, A & B WRITINGS, Caribbean Plus Lit News, The Business

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