As a child, Serge Turnier fell in love with the sounds of the carnival bands that would pass near his house in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Now one of the top music producers in the country, Turnier is faced with the reality that Haitian law offers little protection for music copyrights and he must decide whether to quit the music business altogether, in order to provide financial security for his family.

A musician is not even recognized as a real job here in Haiti. You’re just nothing in eye of the law.  —  Serge Turnier

One of the basic jobs of every government is to protect property rights, meaning if you own this piece of land or you build this house, no one can just come and take those things from you. Property rights are pretty clear cut when it comes to things – like land and houses – but less so when it comes to ideas. Can someone really own an image, or own a song? Here in the United States, the answer is yes, absolutely. But that isn’t the case everywhere.

The Gift and Curse of Music – Haiti’s Fight for Copyright is the story of Serge Turnier, a music producer and composer in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Just last year, he produced a half dozen carnival songs himself, working with top artists in the Haitian music industry. But what he didn’t realize in his childhood dreams, was that Haitian law does not protect copyrights for songs, making it almost impossible to make money from recorded music.

Life of the Law Producer (and composer) Ian Coss traveled to Haiti to meet up with musicians and producers, including Serge Turnier aka Powersurge, to hear first hand what it means to live and work in a music rich country where your creative work isn’t protected by copyright.

Listen to:

Episode 117: The Gift and Curse of Music – Haiti’s Fight for Copyright

The Gift and Curse of Music – Haiti’s fight for Copyright, was reported and produced by Ian Coss. Tony Gannon and Nancy Mullane co-edited the story. Our Senior Producer is Tony Gannon. Our Post Production Editors are Kirsten Jusewicz-Haidle and Rachael Cain.

Jim Bennett at KQED Radio in San Francisco was our engineer. Original music in this episode was composed by Ian Coss, with additional music provided by Powersurge.

Special thanks to Serge Turnier for sharing his story, the organization Ayiti Mizik, which supported our research on the Haitian copyright system, Madhavi Sunder, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Law at the University of California, Davis, School of Law and author of From Goods to a Good Life – Intellectual Property and Global Justice for her scholarly advisement, and to the podcast Afropop Worldwide who co-produced this episode with Life of the Law.
If you like stories about the law but have gotten tripped up by the legal system, tune into Life of the Law on iTunes. Take a few minutes to post your review, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.Each time we publish a new episode we send everyone who’s subscribed to our newsletter a behind scenes look at Life of the Law, that includes notes from our reporters and news about upcoming investigative reports. This week, Ian Coss shares his experience meeting up with musicians in Haiti and powering through the story. If you’re new to Powersurge, we’ve added a link to get you started. You can subscribe to our newsletter at
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