June 3, 2008

At what cost, justice?

In exercising one's right to seek redress, to what extent should one go to right a wrong?

As a consumer, complaints can be made to The National Consumer Complaints Centre (NCCC). However, disputes involving certain industries, as many would have encountered, may be less straightforward to solve with no professional body or Act that regulates them.

Take a case in the music industry where a music producer was engaged to produce an album. Having already collected 50% upfront, he asks his client for further payment at an early stage breaching their agreement. When his client refused to concede to his unwarranted demands, he threatened to stop the project; actions that tantamount to threat and blackmail with the music producer holding all his client's raw tracks and a five figure sum already paid. His client was subsequently charged full fees for incomplete and defective works out of the upfront money already paid. In such instances, how could his client seek redress?

Unfair deals and dispute like these unfortunately does happen, and as a fellow Malaysian singer-songwriter said when this incident was related, 'gawd, as if we don't have enough to deal with trying to do this'. A society of emerging artists/musicians charting their own way with little support can certainly do less with such self-serving and dishonest individuals. So it is unjust and idiots like these do exist. How can these individuals be made accountable for their actions?

When that blatantly unjust incident occurred, the said client begun the process of seeking redress and like many in such situations, discovered just how difficult that is. The Recording Industry Association of Malaysia, RIM, is a member-based association that exists largely to protect the interest of its own members. With no professional bodies regulating music producers, legal redress was the only option available.

One cannot deny the cost of time, effort, energy, and mental duress in seeking redress through the courts. Time spent having to do one's research with industry and legal professionals in examining the facts of the case, and the mental anguish involved in having to face possible aggression and retaliation by the perpetrator.

Many on the receiving end of blatantly unjust treatment often find themselves questioning if they should even bother going through such ordeal to seek redress? An unfortunate advantage used by perpetrators to get away with their acts and will likely continue to do so unless stopped.
Is it worth it to put oneself through such ordeal to make irresponsible parties accountable? Is the answer as some would judge upon, based on the claim amount in question? Can such decision be quantified? Not if the principle of justice is the bigger ideal and goal, and in taking action prevents others from falling prey to such cases.

Mechanisms of redress we have in protecting our rights were not given to us on a silver platter. Often it is individuals, NGOs, responsible decision makers, and interested parties that lobby for such changes over time; it often takes people to be aware, to make that stand, and to start asserting their rights.

And indeed, the process of making one accountable may work in different forms, but it all takes actions on our parts to make it work; corrupt politicians can be voted out, consumers to report unethical charges, and business that cheats and treats people badly can be sued and may eventually go out of business without the support of an enlightened community that does not
condone unprofessional and unethical businesses.

The writer is a singer-songwriter. She does not believe in compromise when it comes to justice.

(first draft for The SUN, published 3 June 2008)