Carnival Copyright Confusion – rival collecting societies baffle party promoters

Trinidad Carnival Celebrations
Photo by Stefan Couri
Kat readers are of course familiar with the annual Carnival celebration in February in Rio, but this festival is also prevalent throughout the Caribbean. Behind the revelry and partying is an unappreciated copyright backstory, concerning sometimes acrimonious and complicated licensing issues regarding the music and live performances that are central to the festivities. A particularly illustrative example of how Carnival copyright plays out can be found in Trinidad and Tobago, where conflicting collecting societies go head to head every year, causing chaos and uncertainty when it comes to securing licences.
First, an all too-real example to dampen one's Carnival spirit. In 2014, one of the most anticipated parties of the season, ‘Soaka’, had secured a licence from the Trinidad and Tobago Copyright Collection Organisation (TTCO). The week before the event, a rival organisation, the Copyright Music Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago (COTT), had threatened to take out an injunction against the organisers for failing to secure a licence from them. A head to head battle ensued, with statements being released from both collecting societies, each one claiming that they were the exclusive organisation for licensing copyright for live performances. Eventually, ‘Soaka’ secured a licence from COTT as well. It is possible that both societies could each have managed the full portfolio of copyright and performers’ rights, if they were accordingly assigned, but it appears that these societies are meant to be responsible for different rights.

COTT, established in 1984, states that their “main function is to manage and license collectively on behalf of music creators and their publishers…the performing and reproduction rights in their copyright music.” Since COTT deals with the right of reproduction and the right of communication in public, party promoters must obtain a licence from COTT in order to play music with authorisation. Machel Montano, the most successful soca artist, has assigned his rights to COTT, and therefore even he requires a licence to perform his own music at his annual concert, ‘Machel Monday’.

As for TTCO, unlike COTT, they do not have a website, so one is left wondering what their remit is. Despite this lack of clarity, it is thought that TTCO handles performers’ rights. This means that a licence is needed to play recorded songs, that is, when a party has a DJ. Since there is no party without a DJ, it would seem that promoters require licences from both COTT for copyright and TTCO for performers’ rights, but it is unlikely that this actually occurs.  The promoters cannot be blamed, however, in light of the ongoing rivalry between these two organisations. Each one gives the impression that one licence is sufficient, instead of collaborating to inform the public of their roles in regulating copyright. COTT has gone so far as to question the validity of TTCO.

Even key players in the Carnival industry are not clear about the division between these collection societies. The  National Carnival Development Foundation lists TTCO as one of their partners, stating that: “The Trinidad and Tobago Copyright Collection Organisation (TTCO) is a non-profit copyright licensing body created to protect the rights of artistes and mas brands by licensing and paying royalties for their copyrighted works.” Clicking on the ‘Read More +’ tab, incredibly redirects to the COTT website. It seems that even those with a major stake in Carnival are not immune to the TTCO vs COTT comess (a West Indian word used to refer to a dramatic dilemma).

The unclear status of these two collecting organisations makes it difficult for promoters to determine whether they are in compliance with copyright. They face the risk of being sued and having their parties cancelled, after investing substantial sums to organise the events. It does not help that their acronyms are so similar, and that the Trinidad and Tobago Intellectual Property Office (TT IPO) reminds promoters that they must take a licence from Collective Management Organisations to use copyright works, but does not provide guidance on the differences between both organisations.

To sum up the state of confusion of copyright in Trinidad’s Carnival industry, I have modified some of the lyrics to one of this year’s popular Carnival tunes:
COTT causing a scene, outdoors
Everybody watching them, all the promoters
They don’t want problems, that's why Soaka conceded 
If this is copyright, is TTCO even needed?

(Thank you to Justin Koo, fellow Trini and copyright enthusiast, for his input on this topic)
Carnival Copyright Confusion – rival collecting societies baffle party promoters Carnival Copyright Confusion – rival collecting societies baffle party promoters Reviewed by Emma Perot on Sunday, March 06, 2016 Rating: 5


  1. Thanks for your first post and this update Emma. I wrote about this at the time over on the 1709 Blog and its good to get an update - although the situation appears to be as confusing as ever!

  2. Thanks Ben. Yes, nothing has been resolved since the Soaka issue unfortunately. Promoters are still in the dark about proper procedures. One would think that this would have been resolved by now, given the number of parties held during Carnival and throughout the year.

  3. Humm, the thing is that during the carnival, copyright laws are non-enforceable. This cames from a very old case-law pronounced by the Very Renowned Pantagruel King of the Dipsodes, Son of the Great Giant Gargantua.


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