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Jamaica? Big Problem!

French band's use of island's name angers JIPO

BY STEVEN JACKSON Observer staff reporter jacksons@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, December 07, 2010    

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A French rock band's decision to name itself Jamaica and to title its recently released debut album No Problem has infuriated the island's intellectual property administrator which says it is powerless to stop the French men.

"We totally reject the use of the name because we have no say in how it is used," head of the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) Carol Simpson told the Observer in an interview.

According to Simpson, JIPO has no legal basis to challenge the registration of the name, but it isn't for lack of effort. She explained that last year, JIPO unsuccessfully lobbied the World Intellectual Property Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland for the protection of county names via an amendment to the Paris Convention for the protection of intellectual property.

"Unfortunately, for countries which were benefiting from such usages they were not keen to support it," she recalled, adding that the current convention protects trademarks and geographic indicators but not country names.

The three-man band, originally named Poney Poney, was formed in 2007. However, after the departure of the drummer the two remaining members — lead vocalist and guitarist Antoine Hilaire, and bass guitarist Florent Lyonnet — changed the name of the group to Jamaica about a year ago and hired a new drummer, David Aknin.

The paradox of the name choice has not been lost on Hilaire.

"Of course, we created that paradoxical seizure between the music and the name but I think Jamaica would not be the best name for a reggae band anyway — like Detroit for a techno band or Portugal for a fado band," he said in an e-mail response to the Observer.

He listed other examples in music history, including the London-based band Japan which didn't play Asian music; as well as Phoenix, which isn't based in Arizona, USA.

Last week, Jamaica's debut album No Problem was on the iTunes top-10 chart in Japan, a traditionally popular market for Jamaican music. The album was released in late August under labels Ctrlfrk, V2, co-operative music (Europe and Australia) and KSR (Japan).

"They are benefiting from the reputation of Jamaica," said Simpson. "One questions the reason behind the band using the name Jamaica and whether it is due to the international reputation that the band is seeking to exploit."

The action by the French group represents the latest use of brand Jamaica by foreigners seeking global fame and fortune. In other instances foods, coffee, spices, and even an energy drink from a Croatian company, have been falsely branded Jamaican in order to capitalise on the country's brand reputation.

Simpson reasoned that rather than complain, Jamaican musicians should take advantage of their own heritage.

"We can sit and bellyache or we can turn around and create our own authentic Jamaica band and tour globally," she reasoned.

In his e-mail interview with the Observer, Hilaire defended the use of Jamaica's name, calling it a tribute to the island.

"First, our choice is, of course, a homage to Jamaican music. Second, I would love to see a band called France with non-French musicians," stated Hilaire.

"There's already an act named after my hometown, Paris, a rapper signed on Tommy Boy back in the days," he added.

Last year, Industry and Commerce Minister Karl Samuda articulated a vision to develop and protect the creation of a singular Jamaica brand with "one symbol that signifies efficiency" and quality which, he said, would mirror the Colombia brand, which uses the phrase 'Colombia is passion'.

However, while no phrase was disclosed for Jamaica, one that is most associated with the island in 'No Problem'.

Originally the group had intended to contrast its synth-rock sound with the expectation that it would be playing reggae. However, its trademark caffeinated riffs are fuelled by synthesised guitars that mimic keyboards during verses and rock during choruses.

The French group, which names British pop band Take That as a major musical influence, is scheduled to play 16 shows in Europe, Australia and Japan between now and January 8.

Jamaica also toured the US in October for two weeks and expects to be touring for another year.

The band's myspace (ithinkilikejamaica) fan site has had over one million views since the recent name change.

According to Bandname.com, a worldwide band registry, the French trio are not the only group using the name Jamaica. Others listed on the site are Jamaicans, Jamaica Boy, Jamaica FC, Jamaican Breeze, and Jamaican Maroon Music.

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers didn't have any performers registered as Jamaica in its US-based database. The Observer also found a small Indie group in the US by the name Jamaica The Band on myspace, which plans to release its debut album soon.

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