A dark cloud of copyright infringement hovers over SVG as the two major political parties here are being accused of intellectual property rights breaches. If these claims are aired in Court, both Parties may very well have to fork out millions of Eastern Caribbean dollars in settlement fees. If not other penalties like having their social media accounts suspended or permanently removed could be instituted.
Performing artistes around the world began to sit up and pay closer attention to their revenue streams since live stage opportunities dwindled to a trickle, if not stopped altogether, due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore digital earning opportunities are increasingly explored and are even more fiercely protected.
The Vincentian general elections, due on November 5th this year, is unfolding during the current global coronavirus-19 crisis. It therefore means that both the Unity Labour Party and the New Democratic Party had to rethink their campaign modus operandi. Thankfully a lot of their campaigning is being shared via the popular social networking platform, Facebook.
It is this international access which allowed Mandella Linkz, one of the creatives behind the Grenadian soca anthem ‘Tombstone’ to become very aware of what he describes as the unauthorized use of his intellectual property. This supposed infringement was facilitated and subsequently distributed by the Unity Labour Party via its sundry media.
Following some discourse on the issue earlier this year The Vincentian Newspaper reported Senator Julian Francis, the ULP’s general secretary, as claiming “discussions that ensued between the ULP and Linkz’s management resulted in an amicable settlement… but he was not prepared to disclose to the public the contents of that agreement.”
In a series of exclusive WhatsApp based interviews with Asbert News Network Mandella Linkz, his manager and Fabien Alfonso, the copyright and related rights practitioner contracted to help mediate this morass, all described Francis’ claims as untrue.
According to a chain of WhatsApp correspondence shared between Mandella Linkz and the ULP’s gen-sec, an invitation to discuss a proposed settlement was extended to Senator Francis and his Unity Labour Party but ultimately no one from the ULP responded.
Linkz, the voice and lyricist behind the 2018 Grenadian hit song, told ANN that he was flown into SVG in January 2020 after his team reached out to Francis to complain at the first sign of the alleged infringement. That booking, Linkz and his team surmised, was meant to appease them without engaging in any real, though, promised dialogue to settle the suspected violation.
Following what turned out to be a surprise appearance at the ULP’s Convention earlier this year, Linkz told us, “before I was dropped off at the airport he (Francis) met me at the hotel, when he came to pay me, and he was asking me in terms of the settlement what it would be like and I told him that I don’t discuss anything without my management and legal team, that’s just the way I do business you know, and he said ‘OK, no problem.’ I told him we’ll discuss it and get back to him.”
Mandella’s Manager an experienced music business insider, elaborated further. He explained that the relationship between Linkz’s team and Sen. Francis got underway when he reached out to an attorney in St Vincent to intercede between both parties. That Attorney and Sen. Francis had a discussion and a decision was made to invite Mandella to St. Vincent.
“Nobody knew that Mandella was booked to perform but Francis did that to save face because on the ground in St. Vincent, the other Party [NDP] was saying that Mandella was going to sue – and talking about some copyright infringement – which we didn’t know about either. But when Mandella arrived at the venue in St. Vincent .… At a backstage camera interview, Francis announced ‘guess who is here, the other side talking about we would be sued… look who is here!’ Later on Francis was heard making an announcement on stage that the ULP plans to settle,” Linkz’s manager disclosed.
It took months of WhatsApp messaging and subtle subterfuge to generate even a causal response from Sen. Francis after that surprise performance.
Trinidadian Alfonso, with his ears ever glued to the music business grapevine, was invited to intercede. Sometime in the month of September 2020, Alfonso said he and Sen. Francis had a cordial discussion about including Linkz in the November 5th campaign by way of virtual appearances but at a later discussion the first week of October 2020, Francis concluded he can no longer accommodate Linkz and ‘Tombstone’ as a theme song in the campaign.
During this time Linkz’s team was collecting evidence of the continuing alleged infringement.
It was not until October 12, 2020 that the Vincentian Newspaper’s nearly 10-month old article reached the team and they, from all reports, were flabbergasted at the potency of inherent half-truths.
That prompted Linkz’s management to again reach out to Sen. Francis in a concerted effort to salvage his team’s business reputation. He wrote, “in regard to the article that surfaced today 10/12/2020; I must inform you that neither I, Mandella or other team members aware of this newspaper article written by Dayle Da Silva headlined “ULP Avoids Copyright Fight.”
That missive also contained the ultimatum that this worsening dispute be settled post haste. Although Francis was prompted, apparently by ANN’s request for a response to the allegations, there was still no direct contact from Sen. Francis by midday Thursday October 16 2020.
Even without the allegations of violating Linkz’s intellectual property, the Unity Labour Party – like it’s counterpart the New Democratic Party – may find itself having to answer to higher authorities for other breaches of copyright law including the suspected, unlicensed use of ECCO’s catalogue and the alleged unauthorized use of the chart topping, South African hit song “Jerusalema” which the NDP adapted as its “Yellow Army” theme song.
Both entities are mum to our queries regarding their current standing with the Eastern Caribbean Collective Organisation for Music Rights. The regional licensing authority for music writers and publishers, ECCO, is in the process of responding to our sundry questions.
In the meantime, Alfonso advises both political Parties of their, “obligation to engage in private agreements with artistes whose music is used as theme songs and … [procure] a general license from a collection agency such as ECCO that represents a catalogue of music inclusive of foreign music because we are hearing chart-topping tracks in your campaigns.
“Further, the copyright disclaimer on the ULP’s Facebook page does not waiver permission to use protected music. These political parties need to obtain the necessary agreements and licenses from the rights owners, if not; it’s what constitutes copyright infringement.”