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Aug 17, 2021

“Ding Ding Walla Walla” – Intellectual Property & Copyright Issues Abound

Intellectual property is a private property right – in the same way that a person owns a house or a car. So even if your neighbour sees something happening in your house, if it is not illegal, they really cannot intervene. You, as the property owner, are the one that has to come forward and speak out. It’s the basis of a discussion over the rights to a song, which was made popular in Belize by music icon Leela Vernon but has recently appeared in a video by a Guatemalan singer, Kimberly Flores. Today, News Five spoke to intellectual property attorney Marissa Longsworth on what has become a hotly debated issue and why sorting out ownership of music is no easy task.


Megan Thee Stallion, Artist

“When I signed I didn’t really know what was in my contract.”


Prince, Artist

“I created it so I felt it should belong to me. That said, the companies felt otherwise and they would always hold this contract up and say, well you signed it.”


Future, Artist

“I want to be able to be a hundred percent in control over my career. I don’t want to work all these nights in the studio and then somebody else get the say so for how I move, when I move and when I drop.”


Duane Moody, Reporting

Believe it or not, these well-known international artists are a few among many who have all been battling copyright issues when it comes to the lyrics, the rhythm and even performance of their hit songs.


Marissa Longsworth

Marissa Longsworth, Intellectual Property Attorney

“The biggest aspect of copyright is who made it originally, who was the first to make the work of art of the creative work. When you look at a song, you are listening to one song, you are hearing various elements in a song. There are lyrics which could be owned by someone who wrote those lyrics. There is a musical composition like a keyboard and a guitar in the background, those could have been owned and remain owned by the guitar player and the keyboard player. You also have the performance. So for example, maybe a lot of people don’t know that many of Beyonce’s songs, she didn’t write it, she didn’t write the music for it; all she does and all she collects royalties from is performing. So you have performance rights in as well and then you have what we call the rights to the master or the sound recording. Now the master is after the producer has cut it, edited it, added in other sound effects, etc and created what you hear on the radio.”


So when one of Belize’s popular Creole songs, “Ding Ding Walla Walla,” as we’ve come to appreciate and know as Leela Vernon’s was circulated in a Spanish version as the newest track of Guatemalan singer Kimberly Flores, it was met with consternation.  A large number of Belizeans, including the Ministry of Culture reacted and are of the opinion that there was copyright infringement.


Marissa Longsworth

“Copyright law is a part of intellectual property which covers works of creativity so it covers music, arts like paintings and sculptures, it covers performances, various aspects of creative works are covered under copyright. And so of course there is a question as to ownership of the rights to the song or even parts of the song, then we are automatically starting to look at origin and originality. It’s possible that the people that you are familiar with on the radio as singing and performing actually have no ownership rights whatsoever. What that means is that the owner has the right to shop his rights around to other people and say well you like this song in English, you want to do it in Spanish; you want to do it in French, pay me for that right. Or do you like the melody, but you don’t like the words, pay me for the melody; you don’t need to buy the words.”


So who owns the rights to “Ding Ding Walla Walla?” The Belizean Society of Composers, Authors, Publishers, better known as BSCAP, among other persons from the creative arts industry are questioning whether in fact there is any copyright violation. BSCAP says that research must be done, but the traditional Belizean song appears to be a public domain work. Intellectual property attorney, Marissa Longsworth, says that cultural expressions such as these would take extensive research to determine who owns rights to the song, if any.


Marissa Longsworth

“It gets a little more complex as well when we look at the situation here where we are coming to understand that this might actually be what we call intangible cultural heritage. Intangible cultural heritage is a generational passing down of culture by way of dance or fashion or folk songs. Is this considered a folk song? Can we predate it to a point where we can say it has passed down generationally to be considered a folk song? If it can’t be considered a folk song, there must have been an owner at one point in time. How similar are they? Are they similar in part or are they similar to the point that they are identical? Because that’s the test that we start to apply if you have two songs. First of all, are they similar enough to be considered that one is infringing on the other and if so, which one was first, which one was the original? Because that one that predates the similar one would then be considered by a court as the rights holder. You can actually have a new creation that has elements of an old creation that is substantially new enough to create its own copyright. So then you could look at it and say was the traditional Creole song played at this pace, was it using these similar instruments, was there anything substantially different about what travelled through the years versus what we are listening to now. Do we even have history of that? Do we have recordings of it being done in a traditionally setting? Are we just going by people storytelling to say, I di hear this from my great granny time and so that dah way before. What are we basing it on to say that indeed this has been a traditional cultural expression developed over time.”


The oldest recording of the song that can be found online on youtube is an instrumental version released back in 1975 and listed as “traditional music.” It was released by Contemporary Electronic Systems or CES of Belize City. Another version was recorded in 1988-89 on the “My Homeland by the Sea” album which credits it as a Belizean folk song. There is also a more recent interpretation from 2016 by the Belize Melody Swingers.  Duane Moody for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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