(A Commentary by the Intellectual Property Office, St. Kitts and Nevis)
As the curtains close on the 21st St. Kitts Music Festival and the 43rd edition of Nevis’ Culturama draws near, the cultural and artistic talents of our people remain under the microscope. Our creative outlets have inspired greater national pride, bigger and more diversified national festival products and have provided a viable area of economic activity, especially for young entrepreneurs. However, as the quality of our creativity increased, so have the instances of unauthorized copying and use of material. Unfortunately, some of our work has been copied and some of us copy other people’s work. Is that allowed?
Is it wrong to use a beat ripped off of Youtube and put it in a song? Can a photographer in St. Kitts and Nevis do anything when his photograph shows up on an international artiste’s social media cropped without permission? The word “copyright” is often thrown around in these instances, but do we understand what it means?
Here are ten points about copyright in the St. Kitts and Nevis context to answer those questions:
- Copyright is the exclusive property right granted to the owner/creator of a literary, artistic, dramatic or musical work. In the same way that the owner of a car has the right of control over how that car is used, copyright holders have the same rights of control over their poems, photographs, plays, songs, software, etc.
- Yes there are copyright laws in St. Kitts and Nevis. The Copyright Act has been in effect since 2001.
- The owner/creator of a copyright protected work in St. Kitts and Nevis has the right to copy the work, issue copies of the work to the public; to perform, play, broadcast or show the work in public and to adapt the work (e.g. turning a book into a movie). The copyright holder also has what are known as “moral rights” which give him/her the right to always be acknowledged as the creator and the right to object when their work (such as the photograph mentioned above) is altered without permission. Where copyright is infringed in that way, holders can ask for their work to be removed or institute legal proceedings against the infringer.
- Copyright protection is extended to (1) original (2) literary, artistic, dramatic or musical work, provided that (3) the creator/owner of the work is a citizen or habitual resident of St. Kitts and Nevis OR the work was first published in the Federation. All three requirements have to be met.
- There are no quality requirements for a work to attract copyright protection. For example, a song recorded in a professional studio is granted the same legal protection as one recorded in a voice note on What’s App. It also does not matter if you think that the song is “good” or not.
- Copyright is a private right meaning that only the owner or holder of the copyright can make a legal claim for infringement as opposed to a public right, such as the criminal offence of rape where even though there is a private person affected, the Government is legally mandated to institute the claim on that person’s behalf. Therefore, if someone makes copies of a CD at home and sells them, only the artist can sue the seller for infringement. The police however, have the right to confiscate the copies where they suspect that they copies have been made illegally.
- Copyright is a territorial right i.e. the right extends only within the territory of St. Kitts and Nevis. However, since St. Kitts and Nevis is a member of a global treaty called the Berne Convention, the other 173 countries that are Members of that treaty have an obligation to extend copyright protection in their territories once a work qualifies for protection in another. So for example, an original book written by a Nevisian should also have copyright protection in Australia, since both countries are Members of the Berne Convention. It should be noted that there are some inconsistencies in this regard and so creators should ensure that the law in a specific country of interest covers their work before marketing there.
- Further to the Berne Convention as well, copyright in St. Kitts and Nevis is AUTOMATIC i.e. the creator/owner of the work gains the right the moment that the work is created. There is no requirement that a work has to be first “registered” to be copyright protected.
- Copyright protection in St. Kitts and Nevis lasts as long as the owner/creator is alive PLUS an additional fifty years after the year he/she died. While that protection is in effect, permission to use the work must be sought from the owner or his/her estate and when it is used, the owner of the copyright must be sufficiently acknowledged.
- You do not have to seek permission to copy a work for your own private, domestic use. When the work is played or shown in the public (including social media), it is likely to amount to copyright infringement if permission was not sought from the creator/owner and so ripping a beat off of Youtube to add to your song would not be permissible if it is played in public. For parties and events where the public is invited and music is played, by law, promoters and establishment owners may be liable to pay licensing fees to a collective management organization such as the Eastern Caribbean Collective Organisation for Music Rights (ECCO) for use of the music. For more information, please see their website (eccorights.org)
These points are only general in nature and do not attempt to offer legal advice to any particular situations. Personalized advice may be sought from private attorneys who are specifically knowledgeable in copyright law. However, the Intellectual Property Office of St. Kitts and Nevis, a department under the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs is available as an informational resource to persons who wish to learn more. The Office is located on the 1st Floor of The Cable Building on Cayon Street, opened from 8:00 am to 4:00 p.m. (Telephone 465 3916). Queries, comments and suggestions for future articles can also be send to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are more than happy to help fuel creativity and innovation for national prosperity!