STORY by SUNSHINE TODAY REPORTER
His name is Sean Caruth and he is a writer/composer and performer from Trinidad and Tobago. He has disclosed to this newspaper his terrible experience with the Copyright Music Organisation of T&T (COTT), “their ruthless practices and lack of integrity”. “I urge all songwriters and composers, law students and entertainment attorneys to read the article in your newspaper and to take heed because this is serious. I couldn’t even get this story published in the traditional media because of their connections”.
Sean Caruth writes, “COTT is mandated to collect royalties on behalf of its members, authors and composers of musical works. The role of COTT is to also represent its members whenever their rights are infringed.
I became a member of COTT on July 1st 1997 and I have assigned the copyright in all my ‘Musical Works’ to COTT through a deed of assignment. COTT is responsible for collecting licence fees for its members when musical works are publicly performed and broadcast over the radio. The collected fees are then distributed as royalties to the authors and composers of the musical works.
In September 2012 my song ‘The Cook’ aka “Coal Pot” was used without my permission to promote a very popular event called the ‘Tobago Blue Food Festival’ which festival attracts a world-wide audience to the sister island of Tobago. At that Festival, Coal Pot was used as the theme song. Advertisements were played on all the popular radio and television stations including social media namely, Facebook and YouTube. The event was hosted by the Tobago House Of Assembly (T.H.A ).
“I was very disturbed when I saw my work being used without my authorization and the organization that should be protecting my rights did not raise an alarm so I immediately contacted an agent from COTT by the name of Enrico Camejo to stop the advertisement from being aired and also, on behalf of COTT, to represent me as a member in seeking damages for such infringement. To my surprise, the person responsible for the infringement, the Event Coordinator for the Festival was one John Arnold, a former Board Member of COTT. Right there and then I knew I was in for a runaround. The advertisements on radio and television ran for over three weeks up to the day of the event October 14th 2012” he spluttered.
“After numerous meetings with COTT to get them to do their job, I demanded that something had to be done and eventually an Invoice for damages for broadcast on radio and television was sent to The Tobago House Of Assembly to the attention of John Arnold. The THA never acknowledged the letter. Through COTT, my only hope then, I continued to pursue the matter and eventually, a Manager told me that COTT does not have the financial resources to take the THA to court. The said Manager of COTT advised that I will have to do so at my own expense. This was a shocking revelation for me.
“However, since I had assigned (transferred) my copyright musical works to COTT, I did not have the legal right to take THA to court. Upon advice from my intellectual property consultant and attorneys, there were now grounds to take the THA to court for the infringement of my Neighbouring Rights and Moral Rights. Neighbouring rights are the rights that protect producers and performers of sound recordings. I am both producer and performer of the sound recording “Coal Pot”. I then took the THA to court. This is the first (1st) Neighbouring rights infringement case to be examined in the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago.
Moral Rights are associated with the protection of the identity and reputation of authors and performers. My Moral Rights were infringed when the song Coal Pot was used with video images of pork that are totally against my belief and lifestyle. The images of pork on video together with my song “Coal Pot” as the music was constantly used to advertise the Blue Food Festival.” Caruth explained further.
I left my job in Italy to be at the trial
This entire matter was very important to me that I left my job in Italy to be at the trial in the sister isle Tobago on 18th June 2018. The THA offered an out of court settlement before the trial of One hundred thousand TT dollars which I turned down because it was totally unacceptable for the number of financial losses that I already incurred. The only witness for the THA John Arnold did not appear in court when my matter was called. He was a no show. The local newspapers wrote articles about the trial but this important piece of information was not reported. It seemed as if the media were protecting Arnold. This was a cause for serious concern.
Unfortunately on July 23rd 2018, my claims were dismissed by the judge who ruled that since I had assigned my Neighbouring Rights to the Copyright Music Organization of Trinidad and Tobago (COTT) they (COTT) should be the one taking the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) to court and not me. My Moral Rights infringement claims were also dismissed on similar grounds. To the best of my knowledge and from the advice from my personal consultant and several attorneys I never assigned my Neighbouring Rights to COTT via an agreement and there was definitely a Moral Rights infringement. I disagreed with the judge’s ruling and my matter is now before the Court of Appeal.
It is informative to note that John Arnold is now the President of COTT. He took office during the period of the court proceedings.
To this day I’ve never had any representation from COTT concerning the matter at hand and their social responsibility in clearing up the confusion that I only assigned my Copyright and NOT my Neighbouring rights to the Organisation was never stated privately or publicly. The most interesting development is COTT held a press conference on 19th March 2019 where they informed the public that an agreement was signed between COTT and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) which now endorses COTT to officially represent and administer the rights of performers and producers under Neighbouring Rights in Trinidad and Tobago.
This information was published in the T&T Newsday on March 20th 2019https://newsday.co.tt/2019/03/20/cott-signs-international-agreement/
and on Loop tt on March 22nd 2019 http://www.looptt.com/content/cott-signs-agreement-administer-rights-performers-and-producers .Other T&T newspapers later published this new development. A video clip of the signing was also shown on YouTube, see link https://youtu.be/maMppxhT54w
COTT began the administering of Neighbouring Rights from June 2019. They will have more tasks and responsibilities to fulfil and the rights and livelihood of creatives are now in the hands of COTT.
The bad news is the T&T music industry may be in (which we did) more distress and suffering because COTT now has a monopoly on all music rights. So unless a new Board is installed, loyal staff selected and the current President of COTT John Arnold steps down immediately, the future of COTT is uninviting and grim.
Wish me good luck with my appeal” Caruth ended.
A call was made to the COTT office at 11:00 am last Friday and we were advised to leave our number and that John Arnold will return our call. Another call was made at 12:10 pm on the same day and the advice was the same. Up to press time, there was no return call from John Arnold.