Street dancing has long been an informal profession taken on by inner-city youth. Using the dancehall stage as their training and promotional ground as well as performance platform, several dancers have managed to cement themselves as international celebrities in their own right.
However, videos from street dances which brought many dancers to fame, are back to haunt them, this, as foreigners have now begun to capture dancehall choreography, rebrand and redistribute them as theirs.
Since 2011, several Europe-based dance videos have been uploaded on social networks, displaying foreign dancers using Jamaican dance moves on tours and hosting dance workshops. Interestingly, the originators of the various dances are not credited, nor is the dance move regarded as dancehall.
With a decline in local street dances and a significant reduction in the capacity for local dancers to market themselves internationally, they can hold their peace no longer.
Street dancers are, therefore, demanding that the existing local music copyright societies protect their intellectual property from the exploitation of the international community.
According to Maria Hitchins, dancer/choreographer, Jamaican street dancers are hungry for the spotlight. However, they should be mindful that the avenues which they choose to promote themselves are not always reliable in protecting their intellectual property.
"They have this yearn to be the next Bogle and they are not seeing the repercussions and the flaws with the Internet. A lot of people have access to it, and you upload something this minute and somebody from Russia takes the entire routine in less than seconds. They, in turn, perform it, video and repost it on YouTube as their own. That's how brave they are," Hitchins said.
The choreographer says dancers must make every attempt to copyright their dances because it could be a financial generator if the right channels are used. She also believes Europeans are better able to benefit from dancehall because European governments are more supportive of culture.
"They have more access to money than us, plus the majority of our local dancers are semi-literate, we don't really have business ideas, professionalism is lacking, and we don't have assistance from government to get work permits. European countries are geared towards culture, so they pay attention to their people. Right now, we as Jamaicans are being told that they don't need us to teach dancehall because they are teaching themselves from YouTube," she said.
Attorney-at-law Marissa Longsworth, who also operates as the manager of copyrights and related rights director, The Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) says, street dancers do have the right to copyright their choreography, however, JIPO is yet to fully facilitate that arm of the copyright act.
She says when JIPO has successfully amended the copyright registration system, then choreography will be included in that which is able to be registered.
"Once they are on the registration system they will be issued a certificate of ownership, and it can be used in the court to prove ownership or can be challenged. It can account for the distribution of royalties or can be assigned or transferred to others for work or for a price by the owner. Choreography is the bastard child of copyright in Jamaica, it does exist but remains unknown to many," she said.
The manager says she hopes by the end of 2013, JIPO will be able to actively accommodate choreography under the copyright laws. However, until then, she advises street dancers to use the Poor Man's Copyright method.
With this method, dancers can shoot a video of themselves doing the choreography, place the DVD in an envelope and post it to him or herself. In this case, the registered stamp will serve as proof of ownership.
She also highlighted that dancers can opt to sign up with international collecting agencies that are already accommodating choreography under their copyright roster.
However, Hitchins feels Jamaica has, for too long, been straggling behind other countries in terms of copyright laws. She also said it might be expensive to join international collecting agencies.
Among other things, Hitchins blasted Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts for not teaching dancehall as an accredited course. She also believes the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission or the Government should consider certification of local dancers as a move to make them legally eligible to teach dancing lessons globally.