Who owns this delicious soup?

BY: Fred Darko

We all love good food; women especially take pride in their cookery skills and love to be acknowledged when they do a good job. The same goes for everyone, especially those in the creative industries.

But let us pause for a moment and imagine this situation: instead of praising our wives for the excellent soup, we rather praise the tomato seller for providing fresh tomatoes.

Forget about the fact that we might end up at the divorce court but is it right to consider the vendor as the source of our wives’ delicious dishes? Let me rephrase the question. Should the market woman who supplied the ingredients claim ownership for our wives’ sumptuous soups?

We all know that our wives conceive the idea of a good soup before they go looking for the ingredients that will make this idea a reality. It is our wives who decide the vendors they will buy from. It is our wives who bring together the different ingredients from different vendors, manipulate them in one way or the other to create the final product, which is the soup that we cannot have enough of. Therefore, the tomato seller or the fish seller, despite providing a good service, cannot be considered the maker of the final product.

Of course we can acknowledge the vendors for providing good services, but the soup does not belong to them and therefore they cannot be expected to take the glory.

Now let us shift focus and ask women (those who actually cook) a simple question; how will you feel if you see or hear that your favourite tomato vendor is claiming ownership of the soup you recently prepared for your husband?

I know it is absurd to even think about it. Perhaps you would ask for the tomato seller’s head to be properly examined. It simply does not make sense for a vendor to claim ownership of a pot of soup simply because she sold the ingredients.

Event management and production issues

Having established that the soup does not belong to the tomato seller, now let us carry the same argument to some real issues currently being debated in the event management and production circles in Ghana as they relate to suppliers and agencies. There is an ongoing cold war between agencies and their supplies in Ghana’s event and production industry and I believe it is important to discuss it before it blows into a full-scale war of words and court actions.

Every creative person will agree that ideas are expensive. Agencies spend hours brainstorming and conceptualising for original ideas. It might sound easy, but anyone in the industry knows how draining the process is, not to talk of the challenges involved in getting clients to buy into the idea. At the execution stage, agencies engage third party suppliers to help bring the ideas to life. These suppliers may be stage lights providers, sound providers or set builders.

It is important to note that these suppliers work on ideas created and designed by agencies. They work under the direction of the agency, just as actors are under the direction of a movie director. What these suppliers do and how they do it is under the control of the agencies, because it is the agency’s idea which they are bringing to life.

After the execution of an event or production, it has been common these days to see people who worked on the project posting pictures on their social media pages. There is nothing wrong with this. However, problems arise when suppliers “create impression of ownership” of these ideas.

Building up the case

For the sake of this discussion, let us use stage or set design and construction to build a case. Agencies spend a lot of time designing stages for events and engage the services of builders to bring the design to life. When the stage is constructed, who does it belong to? Is it the agency which designed it and directed its construction, or the supplier who hit the hammer on the nail?

There may be a number of reasons why suppliers claim ownership of ideas they execute on behalf of agencies, but I believe that the primary reason is to attract clients, and by so doing, boost their financial fortunes. But are these actions by suppliers ethical? What does the Copyright Law say regarding these actions? I am not a professional lawyer, but since every Ghanaian qualifies to be a pocket lawyer, I guess I have a right to have a say.

According to the Copyright Act, 2005 (Act 690), “An author, co-author or joint author of any of the following works is entitled to the copyright and protection afforded to that work under this Act: (a) literary work, (b) artistic work, (c) musical work, (d) sound recording, (e) audio-visual work, (f) choreographic work, (g) derivative work, and (h) computer software or programmes.”

“Author” in the law can be defined as the producer of a piece of work and not necessarily a writer in the literal sense. Our stage or set falls under (b) artistic work which comprises architectural works (including buildings of any kind), and works of artistic craftsmanship.

An argument can be raised that since agencies work with suppliers to bring an idea to life, they can be described as co-authors or joint authors of the work, hence suppliers have the right to claim some form of ownership. This is a fair argument, but it is also important to note that the law deals with agreements, especially documented agreements.

If agencies and suppliers have a written agreement that they are co-authors or joint authors of the work, and that the supplier can use the images for their own commercial ventures, there is no need to continue this discussion. But as a professional in the event management and production industry for many years, I can emphatically state on record that there have been no such agreements between agencies and suppliers.

Where there is no written agreement, the copyright law states in Article 7 that “In the absence of any contract to the contrary, the economic right of a work shall vest in an employer or a person who commissions the work where the employed or commissioned author has created the work in the course of the employment or commission.”

I would have ended my submission here, but another interesting argument has cropped up. The argument is that stage or set designs are ideas, and that the copyright law does not protect ideas or concepts. It is true that the law does not protect ideas and concepts. In fact, Article 2 of the Copyright Act, 2005 (Act 690) states “Copyright shall not extend to ideas, concepts, procedures, methods or other things of a similar nature.”

Unfortunately, proponents of this argument are quick to quote a line or two to support their arguments without looking at the context in which the statements are made. Prior to Article 2, the Law states in Article 1, subsection 2(b) that a work is not eligible for copyright unless “it has been fixed in any definite medium of expression now known or later to be developed with the result that the work can either directly or with the aid of any machine or device be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated.”

What Article 1, subsection 2(b) simply means is that a work qualifies for copyright protection if it is produced in some physical medium. By building the stage or set, the work has been produced and therefore is no longer an idea. By taking pictures of the stage or set and storing it on a disk or computer hard drive, the work has been “fixed” or “stored” in a definite medium of expression and therefore qualifies for copyright protection. Suppliers have no right to claim ownership of these contents. It is as simple as that.

The cold war

At this point, it seems unnecessary to discuss the unethical nature of anyone who claims ownership of a work that belongs to you. Agencies make a conscious effort to give credit to suppliers for their assistance in bringing to life their ideas. It is very unfortunate that, on their part, suppliers fail to acknowledge the originators of content they put on their social media pages.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times. The digital age, and the advent of social media, has made it easier for people to steal ideas. It is more appalling when they claim ownership of a product or service simply because they contributed to bringing it to life. I have a question for those suppliers engaged in claiming ownership of content that do not belong to them. How would you react, if at the moment you were about to eat that delicious soup prepared by your wife, a tomato seller pops to claim ownership?

Instead of answering the question, a supplier may just raise the worn-out argument that clients commission agencies to produce ideas, hence, technically, the ideas belong to the clients and not agencies. Agencies are therefore pots calling the kettle (suppliers) black? This cold war has moved to a new frontier.

The writer is the Managing Director of E-volution International