A Jackie Opel tune, You’re No Good today stands as a signal example of a need for harmonization of CARICOM copyright laws to protect the work of artistes long after they have passed away.
This song – consistent with almost all of the music of this Barbados music icon – remains popular some 54 years after being recorded but will soon carry no patent protection for the version pressed in Barbados, yet that copyright holds firm for the same rendition placed on a 45 record in Jamaica.
Researcher Dr Elizabeth Watson has said that this irregularity exists because laws of individual Caribbean states prescribe varying lengths of time for which the estate of an artiste commands commercial rights of the departed person’s work.
Describing it as a “thorny issue that has now risen since 2015,” Watson told the audience gathered Wednesday evening in the Walcott Warner Theatre of the University of the West Indies to hear her presentation on Jackie Opel, Barbadian Treasure, Jamaican Star, that “in Jamaica the copyright length is now 90 years [after death of artiste], whereas in Barbados it is still 50 years”.
Using ‘You’re No Good’ as an example, she said the Jamaican release is covered for 90 years, but the Spouge version is covered for only 50 years because it was released in Barbados.
Opel, born Dalton St Clair, died in a Bay Street car accident in 1970, which means that the Spouge, or Barbados, version of this song will be available to anyone to copy free of cost, then resell or otherwise use commercially with no legal hindrance as of 2020.
But, the ska rendition in Jamaica remains legally protected until 2060.
“I really think it is something that the CARICOM ministers need to look at and have some harmonization… as a matter of urgency,” Watson said.
This researcher who has written ‘bio-discographic’ books on Barbadian musicians Government Minister of Culture John King, Red Plastic Bag and Informer added, “For those of you in the creative industries, whether it is music or whatever, this is something I think you need to press the policy-makers about because your work needs to be covered the same way that it is covered in other places, so that there is no question as to which version of your work is being used by somebody else.”
Watson’s presentation in the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination on the musical aspects of the life of Opel was extracted from her Ph.D. thesis, and the relevance of rights and protection of artistes from the early ‘60s proved to bear lessons for today’s creative producers.
With his life ending abruptly at 33 in 1970, Jackie Opel left no will, so the question whether heirs could have benefitted from his legacy is debatable. But his life story points to the importance and urgency of current creative producers protecting their work for posterity.
Watson said that her extensive research in Barbados and across the globe revealed 159 songs recorded by Jackie Opel, with most, if not all, still being played without royalty payments, or even credit to the man with the unique singing and performing talent.
On the other hand, she quoted a Forbes Magazine Five Top Earners From The Crypt report that listed Michael Jackson’s estate as of 2017 receiving US$75 Million in royalty since his death; Elvis Presley, US$25 million, and Bob Marley, $23 million.
“So those of you who are in the entertainment industry or have any intellectual property that you need to protect, please do what you need to do,” she advised.
Watson said that the Japanese are “seriously bootlegging Jackie Opel’s work” and are eyeing the 2020 date for the 50 years copyright protection period to elapse in places such as Barbados to then brazenly re-sell Opel’s work.
“But the Jamaican government has worked against them, so they now have to wait another 40 years so that by then, who knows?”, she added, leaving open the question whether bootlegging would be worthwhile by then.
Jamaican Desmond Walker, a music selector and registered promoter in the Barbadian and Jamaican music industries, spoke from the floor affirming Watson’s report on the trade in Opel’s works in Japan.
Walker, who plays Jackie Opel’s songs at Sunday dances in places such as Rae Town, spoke of Japanese tourists hounding him for original copies of the music because “one Jackie Opel record in Japan is US$20 on the market.”
Watson also reported on her research revealing that Jackie Opel and his music are still being celebrated as far afield as the Sombrero Cub in Turin, Italy, where there was a dance that attributed to him.
“You’ve had groups from Spain, Holland, I think a Russian man covered Old Rocking Chair.”
Proceeding with other examples she said, Turn your Lamp Down Low was covered in the US, as was ‘Push Wood’.
The Lord is With Me was covered by a group in the Central African Republic and it’s sung in French.
Old Rocking Chair was covered also in Japan and Canada, and Cry Me a River in the USA.
She played a sample of Rude Rich and the High Notes band playing a Jackie Opel Tune in Holland and said, “There is no credit but this is a Jackie Opel song, but it is I am what I am. He [the Dutch singer] introduces it in Dutch and starts to sing.
“This is why it is critically important for people to be able to register their work so that when it gets covered they get the recognition, both tangible and intangible that should accrue.”
*Barbados TODAY will next week publish a second installation on Dr Watson’s presentation focussing on Jackie Opel, Spouge and his lack of popularity in Barbados*
(by George Alleyne)