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Intellectual Property Office responds to copyright claims: Posting Carnival pictures on Facebook no breach of law

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Copyright concerns

Posting photographs on Facebook for personal purposes does not breach the law. This is according to Deputy Controller of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) Tene Reece.  She was responding to statements made by T&T Copyright Collection Organisation (TTCO) CEO Richard Cornwall about posting photographs of mas costumes on Facebook.


On Carnival Sunday, Cornwall warned the public against posting photos of mas on Facebook because of possible copyright infringement.



His organisation has also been demanding overdue copyright fees from both the National Carnival Commission (NCC) and media houses about overdue copyright fees for works of mas. The TTCO sent pre-action protocol letters to Guardian Media Ltd, One Caribbean Media Ltd, Caribbean New Media Group and the NCC, threatening legal action if the fees it claimed were not paid.


Coverage of Carnival carried on as normal, however. Cornwall claimed posting pictures of mas costumes on Facebook gave other bodies “options of graphics” for commercial gain, in an article in the Newsday newspaper. Reece said she had never heard of “options of graphics.” The IPO is a government office responsible for administering intellectual property laws.  


Reece also said posting photographs on Facebook for personal purposes did not breach the law. “To use a specific example: you and I are playing mas in a particular band...As we play, I decide to take a photograph of the both of us in costume and place it on my Facebook page.


“The issue is whether such an action, that is, taking a photograph of us and placing it on my Facebook page, would constitute an offence under the Copyright Act. “The simple answer is no, it would not. To suggest otherwise is an extreme interpretation of the law.” Reece added that not all works of mas would fall under copyright protection.


“Copyright only applies to original literary and artistic works—and I want to stress only original works are protected by copyright,” she said. “Therefore not all our mas costumes would attract copyright protection, because they are not all original. Traditional mas costumes like sailor mas or blue devils could not be copyrighted. “Also, bikini-based costumes would not fall under such protection.”


She said the TTCO needed to specify who it was representing, as copyright protection would apply primarily to the large king and queen costumes. Copyright lawyer Anthony Cherry told the T&T Guardian in a telephone interview yesterday he, too, had never heard of “options of graphics” anywhere in the copyright law of T&T.


He also said he did not agree with Cornwall that people who posted photos to Facebook then became responsible if their photos were unknowingly taken for commercial use. Additionally, Cherry noted that it was particularly difficult to control things in the public domain such as mas.


TTCO responds

In a telephone interview yesterday, Cornwall said he did not recall using the words “options of graphics.” He said those words were used by the TTCO’s attorney Carlton George. None of the media houses had responded to the legal letters, he said, although many articles had been written about the issue.


“I find it passing strange that so much emphasis is being placed on trying to find out as much as possible and it seems as though the media houses are gathering info before responding to the legal letters,” he said. “So there are questions that I will categorically not answer.” Cornwall added that the TTCO was considering hosting a public forum, to which the media would also be invited, to answer all questions about the matter.


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