Reggae: Our Property?

Alexander Corrie - MF&G Cover Letter 2015-2

Brand Jamaica & Intellectual Property Rights

In September 2012, the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) presented a report to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) outlining its rationale for the implementation of adequate international legal protection of country names, highlighting Jamaica’s case for such legislation specifically.1 This document has since been followed up with additional reports and submissions as recently as 2014. Several cogent grounds were put forth, including Jamaica possessing one of the most recognizable and well-known brands as a nation across the globe, declaring our brand a “valuable national asset, central and integral to the national sustainable development of Jamaica.2

Mounting an effective argument contrary to the ground cited above would be highly difficult to say the least. It is all but impossible to deny that Jamaica does indeed portray a strong image that has resonated worldwide, especially with due regard to our status as a small-island developing state. This can all be summed up with the timeless Jamaican adage: ‘Wi likkle but wi Tallawah!’

I have reservations about the protection of country names generally, including the arbitrary financial exploitation that may accompany it, presumably with the preeminent world powers leading the way. Nevertheless, I still see it providing welfare and gain to Jamaica at a time when it is imperative that we explore all potential financial opportunities available to us.

The JIPO report was not limited to the protection of Jamaica’s name however; it went on to suggest that a number of additional elements of our country and it’s culture should be afforded some level of international intellectual property (IP) protection as well. I am generally in agreement with JIPO’s assertions in this regard, however our views diverged on the critical matter of one of our nation’s most important qualities, its music – Reggae in particular.

Reggae is undeniably a fundamental part of our brand as a country and forms a large part of the interest people have in Jamaica. As stated in the report, in 2008, the Government retained the services of Mr. David Lightle, an American nation branding specialist, who stated in his report: “Be it reggae, rum, running or first-class beach resorts, Jamaica stands for something of value to foreigners, particularly in the sense that Jamaica OWNS these appealing qualities.3

While Mr. Lightle may not have been speaking in an entirely literal sense, “owns” remains a strong word. The sense of ownership being espoused here is reinforced by JIPO’s suggestion that Reggae deserves to be protected under the Geographical Indications (GI) branch of IP law, a right most commonly afforded to wines and spirits.4 That is, that Reggae necessarily corresponds with Jamaica and is essentially attributable to it as its geographical origin, and therefore deserves GI protection.

However, perhaps the most apparent indication of the Government’s intention for Jamaica to ‘own’ Reggae internationally lies in a June 2014 speech by The Hon. G. Anthony Hylton, Minister of Industry, Investment & Commerce, who said just that. The Minister, who delivered the speech at an International Reggae Day Conference in Kingston, stated that Jamaica must establish its “ownership” of Reggae as it “only has one birthplace.5” Establishing Jamaica as Reggae’s global owner would also include the creation of a certification mark to distinguish recordings that are deemed “Authentic Reggae” from those that do not meet that standard, a tool to promote the Jamaican Reggae industry.6

Minister Hylton went on to say that all of this “would better enable Jamaica to maintain control over definition, recognition, and identification of the musical form,” and that this would ensure “that economic rights, trade mark rights, and geographical indication rights, are retained in and within Jamaica.7

JIPO and Minister Hylton, like myself, only wish the best for our country, however I must respectfully take exception to their vision as it relates to Reggae. Incorporating Reggae in this way into our mission to have international laws enacted to recognize and strengthen Jamaica’s brand may be overreaching and unrealistic.

As endemic as Reggae is to Jamaica, the bottom line is that it is a music genre, something for which there can be no perception of ownership or control by a single entity or country. No country, regardless of whether a genre originated there or not, can lay an outright claim to a style of music, or any art form for that matter. This would be akin to the United States asserting ownership and control over the Rock n’ Roll genre, or Brazil doing the same with Samba music. Any state attempting to assert any form of authority over a musical art form originating there is, in my opinion, completely overstepping its bounds.

The major concern here is that the enactment of such legislation would produce ramifications far beyond Jamaica’s borders ­– it would set an extraordinarily hazardous precedent for other countries to follow. Countries around the world may not only seek to declare ownership and control of music genres originating in their territory, but also extend this to other art forms such as theatre, film, dance, literature and so forth. Is this really the type of trend we want to set? This may ultimately pose a major hindrance to artists worldwide whose music, regardless of quality, may not be designated ‘authentic’ by the powers that be, hurting sales, popularity and the proliferation of Reggae internationally.

As it relates to GI protection, many aspects of Jamaican culture and cuisine may well fit the bill, including Blue Mountain Coffee and so on. However, Reggae cannot be grouped with such items, as JIPO did in its report, as they are tangible products necessarily made in Jamaica, not mere art forms or styles originating from Jamaica.

References

1 Report by Jamaica to the WIPO Standing Committee on the Law of Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications (SCT), Cases and case studies relevant to the protection of names of States, and information on our nation branding strategy and related problems encountered in implementation, (September 17, 2012) <http://www.wipo.int/export/sites/www/sct/en/comments/pdf/sct27/jamaicareport.pdf&gt;

accessed Dec. 11, 2014

2 Ibid 2

3 Ibid 24

4 Ibid 32

5 Jamaica Information Service, ‘JIPO Seeks Help To Protect Reggae’ (Caribseek News, 3 July 2014) <http://news.caribseek.com/index.php/caribbean-islands-news/jamaica-news/item/85366-jipo-seeks-help-to-protect-reggae&gt; accessed Dec 11, 2014

6 Ibid

Additional Resources

WIPO: Protection Of Country Names Inspires Delegates; Designs Conference Elusive

http://www.ip-watch.org/2012/09/20/wipo-protection-of-country-names-inspires-delegates-designs-conference-elusive/

WIPO Debate: Can – Or Should – Governments Own Their Country Names?

http://www.ip-watch.org/2014/03/20/wipo-debate-can-or-should-governments-own-their-country-domain-names/

GOV’T EXPLORING STRATEGIES TO PROTECT REGGAE MUSIC – 07/07/14

http://www.miic.gov.jm/News/news_govt_protect_reggae.php

Alexander R.  Corrie, 2015

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