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Reggaenomics: study investigates Jamaican music industry

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

According to research carried out by a Victoria University of Wellington PhD student, despite the popularity of reggae music around the world, the economic return to Jamaica is very low, with most music rights being foreign owned.

Sharma Taylor’s doctoral research shows that many of the singer/songwriters she interviewed didn’t fully appreciate the copyright they own, which she believes may lead to musicians being exploited by others in the industry.

The focus of her research was how copyright protection of Jamaica’s Reggae music industry affects the country’s economic development. Ms Taylor looked at Jamaica’s Copyright Act which, she says, complies with the major copyright treaties but may not allow the Jamaican music industry to foster national development.

Ms Taylor was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship funded by New Zealand AID in 2008 to begin her PhD study at Victoria University’s Faculty of Law, which she has now completed.

She interviewed 57 Jamaican music industry participants as part of her study, which she says provided her with an excellent overall picture of the economic and cultural significance of music in Jamaica.

"Historically, music has been used by people from different ethnic groups as a way of coping with dislocation from home, of finding identity and human dignity, and making everyday life possible.

"Today, the cultural value of music in Jamaica remains very important. Music is a form of national and cultural identity, and it even serves as a method for crime control," she says.

Ms Taylor believes by fully understanding the value of music, it can be better protected in a way that recognises financial benefits, but also allows people to engage with the music.

"Allowing exceptions to copyright law for people to borrow and use works to make something new reflects what has historically happened in Jamaica. This acknowledges the fact that the music industry is not just about making money."

Ms Taylor says during the 1950s to 1970s, there was little or no copyright enforcement in Jamaica, yet this was a period of high creative output and innovation within the music industry.

"The use of other people’s work to create something new and different flourished because copyright law was not enforced," says Ms Taylor.

Jamaica has an interest in both the societal benefits and earnings to be derived from increased music production, but Ms Taylor says her research found a lack of awareness about how to commercialise copyright in Jamaica.

"Even though a lack of understanding isn’t strictly a copyright issue, these are important issues that copyright policymakers need to bear in mind when crafting policy."

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