By Ernie Bruce
As Liberians revel in the excitement and pronouncements during this historic electoral process, the role of the entertainment sector cannot be underestimated, and neither can it go unnoticed. Liberian artists are involved in getting messages out, while using their creative talents to energize, advertise, and support candidates of their choice; a beautiful thing indeed.
However, the overriding concern from members of the artistic community is whether any of the candidates being supported by Liberian artists has, in his/her platform, prioritized the importance of arts and culture in Liberia, and the critical role that they play in building a peaceful, cohesive, and economically viable environment. In our own estimation, this is the perfect time for politicians to indicate cognizance of this basic fact, and follow through with implementation, when/if he or she becomes the “chosen one.”
Liberian entertainment, particularly music, is experiencing a SURGE in its existence. While we have experienced previous surges in almost every decade since the days of the “Greenwood Singers” in the 1940’s, the current surge is unique, in that it now struggles to maintain its force in the midst of a plethora of challenges for all creators. The open sales of illegal audiovisual and musical products, the lack of enforcement to protect creators, the absence of a functioning Collective Management Organization that will collect from users of music for the creators of music and distribute remunerations on a regular basis, and the lack of cohesiveness in the Collective Societies (particularly the Musicians’ Union); these and other challenges render the current surge in entertainment a paradoxical one.
It is a paradox that creative Liberians like the late Quincy B., Takun J., Scientific, Bernice Blackie, Eevine Natt Kamara, Miatta Fahnbulleh, Queen V. and a host of others, continue to remain productive while proudly proclaiming their identities as products of Liberia in an environment that is less than enabling. There are more music producers and recording facilities than we’ve ever had, and the products from those facilities are being marketed, in many cases, illegally; popularity is more meaningful when there are meaningful rewards – financial rewards.
Liberia has come a long way since the enactment of its first copyright law in 1911 (An Act Relating to Copyright-1911). The Act clearly demonstrates that more than 100 years ago, Liberia was cognizant of the importance of protecting the intellectual property of its creators. A new law has been created by Government (Liberia Intellectual Property Act, 2016), ascension to the WTO has been achieved, and we are signatories to several conventions pertaining to intellectual property and the protection of creators. Additionally, the Liberia Intellectual Property Office (LIPO) has also been created to amalgamate the Industrial Property and the Copyright Office under a unified management team.
While these are exciting times in Liberia for all sectors, the creative sector must find the resolve to continue to forge ahead in a unified fashion to raise awareness, and advocate for a more prominent place on the National Agenda, regardless of political affiliation.
Ernie Bruce is the C.E.O. of Piso Entertainment, and a Member of the LIPO Board of Directors.