January 15, 2024

Intellectual Property and Carnival

Trinidad and Tobago’s annual carnival season is upon us. Every year in the run up to Carnival Monday and Tuesday there is inevitably bacchanal involving intellectual property rights directly or indirectly. The usual issues include the non-payment of collective management licences for musical works and performers rights by fete promoters, allegations of copying concerning music and costumes, the taking and use of photographs of masqueraders and general misunderstandings about what intellectual property rights protect. This blog post takes a different angle and broadly addresses some key areas where intellectual property rights are used and moreover can be further developed.

The magic surrounding carnival is rooted in the music, costumes and the atmosphere created at fetes and in the streets. While not all elements of carnival are capable of protection under the umbrella of intellectual property, many parts are, and it is important that persons are aware of what rights are at play and how they can be commercialised. As such, the core intellectual property rights are discussed below with examples.


Copyright covers literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. Naturally, it is the most relevant right for the carnival industry because it protects the music and art involved. This includes the soca music, carnival costumes, photographs and audio-visual works. While these are all prominent parts of the carnival experience, there are opportunities to grow the use of these art forms beyond the traditional carnival economy tied to carnival celebrations. The success of K-pop and Afrobeats suggest that non-traditional music can become mainstream. Additionally, there is room for aspects of traditional mas-making to evolve into regular wearable couture, which can be protected under copyright and design rights. While scaling production may be difficult, awareness of the value of rights held and the potential to license and assign intellectual property should feature prominently in the minds of those involved in the carnival industry.

Trade Marks

Trade marks concern the brands that are used to market goods or services. Just like the most famous brands that are multinational be it Apple, Nike, BMW etc, carnival brands are increasingly gaining international recognition by virtue of the increase in Caribbean inspired carnival celebrations being held around the globe. As such, the value of having a strong brand in the islands is no longer sufficient. Successful carnival brands need to grow their markets overseas and as a result must register their trade marks in multiple countries. This is made easier via the Madrid Protocol where one application can be made leading to registrations in multiple signatory countries. It should also be noted that this advice is not limited to carnival bands like Tribe and Yuma, but also includes the performers, djays and steelpan bands.

Registering a trade mark in multiple countries not only safeguards the core branding, but it also opens avenues for an expanded audience, which can lead to new markets for the sale of core services such as performances and secondary markets such as merchandise. Given the territorial nature of trade mark law and the fact that many carnival entities may not yet be at the stage of being considered a well-known mark, failing to register one’s trade marks may lead to significant problems where a third party registers the mark(s) currently being used, which resultantly prohibits entities from using and registering that mark in foreign markets.


When carnival is discussed, patent law is unlikely to be the first type of intellectual property right to come to mind, if at all. However, there are patents in everything we use in our daily lives. Carnival is no exception. The technology used to create and play music and the tools used to make costumes were perhaps at some point patentable. Failing to give patents sufficient attention in the carnival industry is a mistake.Instead, awareness is needed about what patent law covers and how innovating on existing carnival practices by way of developing new technologies is a lucrative endeavour. For example, the development of the Xyloband made famous at Coldplay concerts is one recent invention that has had a major impact on the user experience at large concerts. Perhaps innovating on music trucks for carnival celebrations to make them safer and more environmentally friendly may be the next big patentable invention for carnival.