Monday, October 21, 2019

Jamaica's Intellectual Property Challenge

On Friday October 18, 2019 Jamaica's Emancipation Park played home to a free Christian concert named Sunday Service hosted by Kanye West, which was the first of the international leg of his proselytising series, and with its own hashtag #SundayServiceJA. 

Photo courtesy of Garfield Robinson, Jamaica Observer

The concert was not without controversy, as Kanye is known to attract, and as this Jamaica Gleaner article about "Upstaging Heroes Weekend" outlines, but the issue that elicited my response was the issue surrounding Kanye’s use of Jamaican intellectual property, specifically official national symbols and emblems, to produce and sell merchandise off and online for the event. 

Image courtesy of

The most recent controversy caused me to go back into my blogs for a post made on September 26, 2010 titled, Licensing Brand Jamaica, that suggested how Jamaica could handle these matters, that I anticipated back then. The controversial merchandise could have been licensed and the government would have been collecting some kind of revenue in theory.  Unfortunately however, seemingly nothing was ever put in place to handle scenarios where persons or entities could be marketed the idea of obtaining licenses to use certain Jamaican symbols or iconography for commercial purposes.

Image courtesy of

Below is a paragraph from that 2010 post that contemplated an approach to handling these matters for Jamaica: 
I have often wondered if the government, perhaps through the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office, has examined licensing Jamaican properties in a similar fashion to how the city of New York has established NYC & Company Licensing to handle the business of licensing the City’s intellectual property. As a result, all official merchandise from the New York City police, taxi, fire department, parks and recreation, and the transport department benefit the city. We know that there is merchandise sold with the Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Negril and Kingston city/town names and replicas of other property. Then there is Jamaica Tourist Board’s signature 'JAMAICA' trademark and related property that serve tourism... I wonder to what extent local business, and by extension the state, could benefit from greater sales of products around these properties? This is certainly a business opportunity.

Since the outcry on social media for clearly what was an oversight (or more accurately a matter that was not even contemplated in the least) by the relevant authorities, the minister of culture was forced to act as the Jamaica Observer newspaper reports in this story, Pull the merch, Kanye, "government requests that West removes items with national symbols from online store." Of course, nobody really wins here, when the outcome could have been very different.

This is a sad outcome, because if there was a sales trend it is likely broken for the moment. In fact, a visit to the website ( today asks that I sign up for further updates. The newspaper goes further to say that the minister will "re-establish a committee to devise a strategy to deal with the proper use of our emblems and symbols, as she is aware that other vendors are selling Jamaica-branded products."  I wonder just how this will be tackled because not all Jamaica-branded products can be claimed to belong to the state, so in one sense all this may become an academic exercise bearing very little fruit.

The good thing is that licensing opportunities in which the government or its entities can participate still abound for some Jamaican merchandise, but as with everything, having the right partners, execution and knowing what you're doing makes all the difference.  

The minister has my best wishes, and I certainly hope they are able to create something meaningful that will redound to the benefit of the good Jamaican people.