'Get Up, Stand Up' For… Whose Rights Now?

from the what-exactly-are-they-promoting dept

If you read our recent post on the US’s new IP czar, Danny Marti, and his questionable ideas, you already saw much of this, but that was a (super, crazy) long post, and I just can’t stop thinking about the ridiculousness of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) using the title of a popular Bob Marley song to promote World Intellectual Property Day, which was held back on April 26th. Here’s the WIPO website about it:

As you can see, the theme was “Get Up, Stand Up. For Music.” This is a play on the title of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ famous song “Get Up, Stand Up.” As you may know, this song was written by Bob Marley after touring Haiti, and was first released on the Wailers’ 1973 album Burnin’. That’s important because a few years ago, Bob Marley’s heirs sought to regain control of his copyrights from Universal Music (which got them when it bought Island Records) by going through the copyright termination process (which allows original artists to regain control over their copyrights years after assigning them to others). We’ve written a bunch about copyright termination in the past, though this case was a bit different — as it was under the old termination rules, rather than those in the 1976 Act (obviously, a recording from 1973 wasn’t recorded under the ’76 Act).

The end result? The court claimed that Marley wrote the song as a work made for hire and thus Universal could keep the copyright, and not give it back to the Marley Estate.

So, if we’re “getting up, standing up, for music,” what message is WIPO really sending here? That we should support giant multinational gatekeeper corporations that play legal games to keep the copyright and control from the actual artists and their heirs? Really?

The decision is even more bizarre and ridiculous if you’re even remotely familiar with things like the history of popular Jamaican music. Hell, even the history of reggae itself that led to Bob Marley becoming so famous. You had records that made their way from America that first influenced Jamaican music in the late 50s and early 60s, and without enough of it flowing into Jamaica, local record store owners started setting up their own recording studios, combining Jamaican and other Caribbean rhythms with American R&B to create entirely new kinds of music, but very much built off of American music: Jamaican shuffle, ska, rocksteady and, eventually, reggae. Some of the earliest songs were merely re-imaginings of American songs but with a Jamaican twist.

Hell, just look at Bob Marley’s own first album, The Wailing Wailers, which was put out by Studio One, the leading and biggest Jamaican studio for popular Jamaican music at the time. It included a cover of the American hit “What’s New Pussycat?” and, more importantly, the song “One Love” (in a very different version than the famous one you probably know — though, frankly, I prefer this original one). However, that version included a pretty clear copy of Curtis Mayfield’s amazing tune “People Get Ready,” which was released the same year — but Mayfield wasn’t credited at all, to make sure there were no copyright issues.

You can find that kind of story repeated throughout the history of popular Jamaican music, and it was this kind of regular copying, building on and remixing of others’ works, that helped make Jamaican music — and Bob Marley, in particular — so popular.

In fact, in an effort to produce more new records more quickly, it was pretty common for producers/sound system operators in Jamaica to get a bunch of studio musicians together to record a bunch of backing tracks, or “riddims” and then let a whole bunch of different singers sing different songs over them. You can find tons of classic old Jamaican songs with identical backing tracks. Here’s Sound Dimension’s “Real Rock” which you can probably find on dozens of reggae songs, such as Dennis Brown’s “Stop that Fussing & Fighting”, or Willi Williams’ “Armagideon Time” (which was famously covered by the Clash a few years later).

Or, you have Jamaican bands taking American hits and writing entirely different lyrics. Ever hear the Gaylads doing “Stop Making Love”? That song sound familiar? Of course it does, it’s the Four Tops’ “Same Old Song”.

And, of course, nearly all of this happened almost entirely in the absence of any real copyright laws. An explosion of creativity and music, that you can then take and trace a fairly straight line from Jamaican reggae to Jamaican dancehall to American hip hop and onward.

Yet, we have WIPO pointing back to all of this as an example of the need to “get up, stand up” for stronger copyright laws for music? Really?

Now, to be clear, the situation in Jamaica for musicians wasn’t always great. Producers/sound system operators frequently screwed over artists. The underlying aspects of the story in The Harder They Come is only loosely fictionalized. Some musicians were screwed over, and what little bits of copyright law that were actually used, it was generally used to benefit gatekeepers over the artists — which is how Bob Marley’s heirs were left in a situation in which Universal Music fought and won in court to keep those copyrights from going back to the Marley estate.

Given all that, it’s a mystery as to why anyone involved in intellectual property could possibly think that referencing Bob Marley, Jamaican music, or the song “Get Up, Stand Up” would even remotely make sense for “World Intellectual Property Day.” The entire song and the history behind it is more of a condemnation of intellectual property and how it was often used to harm artists. But, of course, the geniuses at WIPO don’t know much about actual culture. They just saw an opportunity to co-opt a popular concept and use it to their own advantage. That’s perfectly fine of course, but it does make me wonder if WIPO gave Marley’s heirs any compensation for using the title of his song? Or, does WIPO not really believe in “standing up” for that sort of thing?

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Comments on “'Get Up, Stand Up' For… Whose Rights Now?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“This song is 42 years old. It will not be in the public domain for another 36 years.”

And it will be extended even longer should Disney be successful in extending Mickey Mouse again for another 20 or so more in the next few years.

So yes there is no justification at all for that kind of insanity when the extention of copyright of one thing i.e. Mickey Mouse will automatically lead to the copyright of thousands and thousands of other things being extended.

In my opinion if Disney is successful on extending the copyright on Mickey Mouse then the copyright shouldn’t automatically be extended on all the other things. Those other things should apply for extension themselves after life plus 70 years if they want to and not piggy back on being extended when the copyright on Mickey Mouse gets extended.

RD says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“In my opinion if Disney is successful on extending the copyright on Mickey Mouse then the copyright shouldn’t automatically be extended on all the other things. Those other things should apply for extension themselves after life plus 70 years if they want to and not piggy back on being extended when the copyright on Mickey Mouse gets extended.”

The law must apply equally to all, else there is no point to having laws.

Except for the worlds of finance, state secrets, spying, drugs, taxes, government, and politics.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I responded to a comment that the heirs were greedy for attempting to terminate copyright and collect unpaid royalties in accordance with the law. I was attempting to clarify AnonCow’s position that both the underpaid royalties and copyright termination shouldn’t have been initiated, by asking if the corporation is any less greedy in it’s actions.

I fail to see how piracy factors into my comment on the Marley estate. Heck, I fail to see how it applies to the questions about the appropriateness of using a song born from a culture that boomed from a lack of copyright to promote greater copyright. It has a place in the greater copyright discussion, but this article only has the mildest of associations with piracy in general.

Edward Teach says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I don’t get royalty checks from pirates either. Does that make me “not a pirate” like you?

On the other hand, I probably am a pirate. I probably do things without thinking too hard that contravene US copyright laws. I’ve probably made public performances of copyright works without proper licensing, I’ve certainly xeroxed pages and pages of copyrighted material. I’ve downloaded scientists’ and engineers’ papers, some from Springer-Verlag publications, and printed them. Without a court case, I don’t really know for sure if these are “piracy” or not. You’re probably guilty of that sort of thing, too. Again, without a trial, we can’t know.

Or are you just slinging the word “pirate” around without a very good meaning, hoping that as an insult it will stick? Because in that case, Avast, me hearties! Ter ship be founderin’! Keelhaul that scurvy dog! Arrrr!

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Because you’re a pirate like everyone else here. That’s why.

Direct from the Copyright Maximalist’s Handbook:

Rule #12: When backed into a corner without a valid counter-argument, simply call your opponent a “pirate”. This not only gives you a warm feeling of superiority, you can also claim you won the exchange without actually having resort to logic, common sense or anything that resembles a valid counter-argument.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Are you denying you pirate movies and music?

I won’t deny that I did use bittorent many years ago to download some music. I was actually more interested in learning the protocol and technology than I was in the actual music itself though. The music I did download was all over ten years old at the time, nothing current. My digital music library is built from mine and my wife’s vast CD collections, not from downloading. I don’t download anything these days and haven’t for 5 or 6 years now.

I have never downloaded any movies beyond a couple of public domain movies (Night of the Living Dead 1969 was one). For me, it was never worth the time involved, especially since I had HBO, Showtime and Cinemax and now also have a Netflix account.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

one reason our unknown pro will never reveal himself (almost certainly a male of the species): then his (his mummy’s or daddy’s ?) work will be put under the microscope, and we’ll see how that plays out…
as if ANYONE is ‘creating’ everything new from whole cloth, and lives in total isolation from any/all other cultural musical influences…
please, IF you want your ‘art’ to be 100% uncopyable, just keep it in your file cabinet and it will be pristine FOR-EVAH ! ! !
thanks in advance…

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“Are you denying you pirate movies and music?”

I’ll certainly deny that, since you usually lie about me in that way. I do subscribe to many services that allow me to consume media legally, despite the many blocks your beloved corporations put in front of me, from blocking services from servicing where I live to removing content from those services wholesale.

But, I don’t pirate. If I can’t easily access a certain title, I legally access something from that artist’s competitors instead.

“That would make you a liar as well”

Prove it, dickhead.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Wow. Ok. Are you attempting to make a declaration of fact that I am a pirate? Id would like to see your evidence.

ALso, still not telling me why that matters. If the only reason you are dismissing my comment is that I am a pirate, you need to tell me why being a pirate makes me incapable of making the comments I am making. Is a pirate unable to question why a corporation is allowed to withhold royalties and own copyrights after a creators death, but its considered greedy to be an heir who demands the royalties contractually owed to them and legally seeking to gain ownership of that copyright? Why is a pirate unable to ask that question? Are the heirs pirates? Is that your argument?

Even if I was a pirate, I don’t see how that is a factor in my question. Could you elaborate?

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Because none of those pirates will ever buy tickets to your concert, or buy your t-shirt, or buy your next release, or contribute to your kickstarter, or pay in all the other ways a fan can once they become fans through piracy.

All you can think about is one way to make money and get mad if people don’t give you money that one way – even though some people can’t because your record label won’t sell it to them in their country. And are people who buy used CDs pirates, because they’re not paying you either?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“I get royalty checks from record labels.”

Yet, you never prove this claim. Are you a liar, or simply afraid that people will look at your real identity and prove that the reason you’re losing money is that you’re as talentless at music as you are at trolling?

I honestly wish you would out yourself. I’m still afraid that I’ve inadvertently paid such a raging moron with my legal purchases over the years.

JMT says:

Re: Re: Re:

“So your argument is that the greedy corporation was right to both keep that song and underpay contractual royalties?”

I think the point was more that the family don’t exactly make a sympathetic victim, not that the record companies weren’t acting unconscionably. Most people here don’t believe copyrights should extend beyond the rightsholder’s death, and so there should be no need for a law suit.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The royalty disputes, while part of the same lawsuit, are a separate issue from the copyright termination, and were decided independently. The later settlement on the concern of royalty underpayments does not change the decision that Marley’s work was declared a ‘work-for-hire’ and not eligible for copyright termination.

I also fail to see how the settlement should have any effect on the concerns of copyright being harmful to Jamaican musical culture, the concerns about using a song whose history includes legal games with copyright to prevent the copyright from reverting to the Marley estate, and the questions of the appropriateness for using music born of a lack of copyright to stand up for stronger copyright laws. You know, the issues central to the article.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Stop feeling sorry for the Artists!

Personally, I think it depends on when they entered the music biz. It wasn’t that long ago that if you wanted to be a recording artist, your choice was to sign a terrible deal with a label or to go pound sand. I do feel sorry for those who entered the business in those days.

I don’t feel sorry for modern artists who sign these deals, though.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Stop feeling sorry for the Artists!

You know who doesn’t feel sorry for the people that sell their souls?

Record labels, and the stooges who defend them. Dare to question how the record labels do things, and the shills will start screaming about how artists are too dumb to read the fine print. “I may not like it when people say I abuse artists, but I will defend to the death my right to fuck them over and drain their coffers any way I can!”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: And they ripped off Keith Haring's art

They do not have the endorsement of the artists, just the endorsement of those who inherited their copyright. It is hardly surprising that those who get money from somebody else’s copyright would support longer and stronger copyrights, because it is not like they will create new works to maintain an income.

Anonymous Coward says:

So, if we’re “getting up, standing up, for music,” what message is WIPO really sending here? That we should support giant multinational gatekeeper corporations that play legal games to keep the copyright and control from the actual artists and their heirs? Really?

Their heirs? They have not earned a fucking thing.
In a perfect world, noone would inherit from their relatives, it’s deeply unfair.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Their heirs? They have not earned a fucking thing”

Neither have the people who currently collect royalties for the record label.

I’d prefer these songs to be entering the public domain within a reasonable time as they would have done before the Bono Act, but if someone has to have control I’d rather it be Marley’s own blood than some corporate entity.

Oldjasoul says:

Half the story has never been told

It seems no one here has any clue as to how the Jamaican music industry worked.

First off, forget this whole LP centric concept. LPs were irrelevant after-products made with already charted songs in Jamaica. 45s were the prime distribution method for music.

Second, the industry was run by the “producers” of the records, usually the man putting up the money to pay for the recording. Everyone generally worked as a freelance employee. The Wailers were an exception, they were actually tied to Studio One on a five-year contract.

Copyright law in Jamica didn’t exist in any form like it did in the US. So the comparisons above are pointless. Jamaica did not join any of the international treaties covering copyrights until 1994. Covers and reworking songs were done on a regular basis without worrying about permissions.

Most artists recorded music for a paycheck, with the ownership going to the producer. This was the prevalent method of business in the post-independence 60s Jamaica. The musicians were free to record for whomever they choosed, and quite often switched producers based on who was paying the best. This also led to many disputes that became recordings in their own right. The Wailers left Studio One over the lack of payment for their hit “Stir It Up” recorded for Coxsone Dodd in 1966. The master tapes ended up in the posession of the Wailers who then released the record on their first label Wail ‘N Soul ‘Em.

By the time “Get Up, Stand Up” was recorded and released, the Wailers were working with Chris Blackwell (or Whiteworst depending on who you asked), who may have used the informal methods in Jamaica of gaining control of the songs. Problem is as a business located in the UK, UK and not Jamaican law came into play, leading to the ongoing dispute.

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