Legal Stuff Music Stuff Stuff I Do

Stuff I do: Copyright chatter in the Caribbean

Published on Sunday 20 August 2017

So, as I write this I am on my way to Jamaica to talk music business and music rights as part of the Business Of Music programme being staged by Jamaican performing rights organisation JACAP and the Association Of Caribbean Copyright Societies.

I spoke at the same event in Barbados last year and it was one of my favourite projects of 2016. And not just because it involved a trip to Barbados. Though partly because it involved a trip to Barbados.

But the most interesting thing about any trip to a music business conference or event abroad is finding out about the local music community and the local music industry, and how the challenges and opportunities differ for aspiring artists, songwriters and music entrepreneurs around the world.

In Barbados there is no shortage of recording studios, but getting your music heard is another matter. The local market is very small indeed, and gigging in the next nearest city requires an expensive flight to the next island along, which is hardly practical for DIY acts.

There is a small local music industry, with some agents, promoters and a record label, though artist management and music marketers are somewhat lacking – which is obviously an ever increasing problem in an age when the first services a DIY artist now needs are management and marketing.

That said, without the big legacy structures found at the heart of the music industries in the North American and Western European markets, there is more flexibility to evolve the music business to the new model – ie to the online, streaming, direct-to-fan model. And one of the reasons ACCS and the Caribbean Development Bank are running these Business Of Music seminars is to capitalise on this opportunity.

And, of course, despite the various differences between the music industries of different countries, many of the challenges faced by musicians and their business partners in 2017 are universal. And the big opportunities presented by the digital age – like the direct-to-fan relationship and artists having more control over their businesses – exist worldwide too.

There is also another global truth: information is power. And that includes everyone in the music community having a basic and better understanding of music copyright – what it is, how it works, when and how it makes money, and what formalities need to be in place for artists and songwriters to safeguard their rights.

I’m biased, of course, because this is where I and CMU Insights come in: we help music people better understand music rights. This is more important than ever, as the recorded music industry shifts away from being a disk selling business to become a copyright licensing business. Capitalising on the opportunities to monetise recorded content in the digital age requires understanding the basics of copyright.

Every country has its own copyright regime of course, and yet artists increasingly look to exploit their rights globally. That immediately makes things a little more complicated. Though again, there are some universal principles that apply to copyright worldwide, and parallels can usually be found between the different copyright systems. And in Barbados and Jamaica, copyright law is very similar to the UK.

Nobody in the music community needs to take quite the detailed interest in copyright law that I do, but understanding the basics is key. Which, it is worth adding, many in the music community realise, and that keeps us busy at CMU Insights, where we specialise in explaining copyright complexities in as clear a way as possible.

In addition to talking music copyright with the Jamaican music community this week, last week I was in Belfast explaining music rights to the three acts being supported by Help Musicians in Northern Ireland. And this Autumn I’ll be delivering our ‘Music Rights Inside & Out’ primer course to members of the BPI in the UK and IMRO in Ireland. I’ll also run through all the basics with the new intake of interns at Sony Music.

And, of course, we have another season of our CMU Insights seminars and masterclasses which, between them, explain all the basics about music rights and music licensing, provide an overview of the music rights business, and then go deeper on how streaming services are licensed by the music industry, and on what the law says about copyright infringement and those pesky much talked about safe harbours.

None of those will take place in quite so exotic an environment at this week’s sessions in Kingston, but they’ll be just as informative and, hopefully, just as much fun.