Intellectual property and the future of new businesses in Guyana


I WAS invited to do an interview for television on the cultural industries subvention and some reflections of copyright. Though it was never aired on TV it was relegated to the radio, and I got some calls by phone and stops on the street by people who just didn’t understand what Intellectual Property Rights mean. We are behind the world when it comes to believing and understanding that it is more likely that someone with money will steal your manifest idea and there’s nothing you can do about it. This has been happening for the past decades with the music, art via acts of public plagiarism that have occurred with no option from the courts, as even the police have no understanding of what constitutes Intellectual Property, much less how to apply the law, and what law, or even if a law is broken in respect to a copyright (Intellectual Property right) allegation.

This situation will change, simply because the world has changed and the nature of business will not remain merchant vending of imported merchandise acquired through foreclosures and bond clearances. There will also emerge from within or from external sources the presence of legitimate franchise owners- regional representatives who will provide some form of accountability backup for products, and also seek protective space through the courts as was once normal in Guyana. Already, online shopping has encroached on our market and foreign companies are presenting options to niche markets for cultural industries to which copyright and patent registration are wise pre-requirements. The protection process for the visual arts is sought through the Library of Congress in Washington- PRS elsewhere. The fact is that a loss of foreign revenue for the state is the result that only the passing of copyright legislation can intercept, thus, empowering the Commercial Registry.

On a recent visit to Mahdia with the commission I serve with, the question of copyright protection was raised by a young resident who is also a musician. Through the same commission, in a discourse with a visiting politician, the topic of Patents for indigenous medicines was raised, for the specific organic formulas used to harm and to heal that are shrouded by mysticism and lore are the agents of pharmaceutical wealth, if proactively harnessed by us for us, that wealth and the employment that accompanies it will serve us generously.

For any of this to be effective the laws of patent must be in place, and a lively scheme of educating both the relevant institutions and the public extended within this time frame, because it is obvious that we have a surprisingly minimal legal and bureaucratic expertise in that area, and an even lower level of political understanding with tremendous ‘Dunce cap’ candidates on the specific subject of familiarity in respect to an active appreciation for ‘Intellectual Property Rights’. Yes, we must understand that it is not a request for an unusual favour. Copyright ownership in the age we live in; is a natural human right.

One of the first written about cases of copyright ownership in the context of an intensely protected item concerns maps inherited from the Moors by the Portuguese at the end of the 800 year old Moorish administrated civilisation in Europe. The Moorish maps dated back to the Phoenicians and even further and though they had at some point indicated publishing this knowledge, the Portuguese changed their minds. Protecting their voyages, encounters and maps with the same sacrosanct seriousness of a modern copyright owner, except in the 15th century ,the punishment was not financial awards through the courts but by death-
most likely beheading. A country without copyright legislation renders its innovative citizenry vulnerable. The late Denis Williams told me a story repeatedly about a local musician who sang his song to the guitar he played around old Georgetown when he was a boy, for shillings and pennies, at certain rum shops and hotels opened to the moods of the locals. He eventually sold the song to a visiting American for about $30. The name of the song is ‘Stardust’. The song was made popular by Nat King Cole after originally done in 1927 by Hoagy Carmichael and 15 other singers and was copyrighted to Hoagy Carmichael with the lyricist as Mitchell Parish. A sad and tragic tale that returns to me each time I hear Family Teach’s song ‘Ent want no man pon meh island’ redone and sold on Karaoke CDs. Remembering his sad demeanour on his return to Guyana, with a smile he stared beyond me and into the unknown as I tried to talk to him, while he leaned on a lamp post in America Street, then he was gone, forever.

Every Industrial innovation, ICT programme built, traditional healing method; every novel, photograph, piece of clothing and accessory designed, artwork, play written, song composed, furniture and Jewellery designed, fabric design, tapestry and recipe that summons attention carries with it a potential industry, if legally protected.

The age of mass semiskilled industry employment is gone; Artificial Intelligence is staring at us with cold and unfeeling eyes. We are training a young generation towards self employment. This is the wise thing to do, but they cannot achieve the benefits of any innovative act without the legal framework to protect their efforts. Administrators must understand that the future is now; the potential is staring at us in anticipation. It has been that way for a long, too long time.