Understanding intellectual infringements in music

In January 2016, the Nigerian blogosphere witnessed tweet-storms at the behest of prominent musicians over copyright issues.

Allegations of copyright infringement have been hurled in all directions. Many are incensed that a colleague, competitor or co-collaborator suddenly went rogue and profits from their works. They accuse them of using a composition and sound recording of their work without due authorization. There is a growing list of the artistes who have raised eyebrows and have also raised tweet-brows against a colleague. The likes of Black Face, DJ Spinal, Don Jazzy and Dammy Krane have raged online about this breach of their Intellectual Property. Deevee, Masterkraft, Shizzi and Vector had also vent similar outrage concerning the stealing of their works by counterparts in the industry. It is also fast becoming a fad in the industry, as the list of supposed offending artist include KSolo, Psquare, Ycee, Kaycee, Wande Coal and Olamide who have at different times been caught in this web of allegations.

Nigeria’s Copyrights Law, governed by the Copyright Act Cap. C28 (LFN 2004) and other international conventions, recognizes and protects proprietary rights in a musical work and sound recording. It also mandates that owners of such works can, to the exclusion of others, exploit and earn rentals for a given number of years. To this end, Copyright can be described as ‘Right to Copy’ musical works.

To be eligible for copyrights, a musician must be able to show that sufficient efforts have been expended to produce an original musical work or/and sound recording. It must be concretized in tangible form, that is, the musical work must be ORIGINAL and stored in a fixed format such as sheets, tapes, Mp3s, DVDs, and other formats. The exclusive Right to Copy is automatically bestowed upon the fixation of an original piece of music. However, this exclusivity expires seventy years after the end of the year in which the musician dies.

During the pendency of the exclusivity of the right to copy, a musician – by Section 6 of the Copyright Act – retains the exclusive right to reproduce, publish, perform, adapt,distribute, sell and broadcast his music. This exclusive Right to Copy is the bedrock of all businesses dependent on copyrights, such asfilm, music, theatre, broadcast, book publishing, radio and television. This right sanctions the commercial exploitation of the works created.

According to Section 15(1) of the Copyright Act, when the rights contained in Section 6 are tampered with, the musician, owner, assignee or licensee of the right to copy is empowered to seek redress at the Federal High Court.

The Courts can grant reliefs by way of damages, injunctions, and accounts for profits whenever allegations of infringements are proven.

Perhaps, our current crop of ‘twitter fingers’ can draw inspiration from the recent
decision in respect of the master’s rights and musical works of the legendary King Sunny Ade. The Court, sitting in Lagos, awarded him damages in the sum of N500,000,000 (Five Hundred Million Naira) after he satisfactorily proved his claims. To enforce his rights he didn’t resort to a media campaign, rather he got legal representation and presented his case in court. Another shining example can be found in the claims of heirs to the estate of Marvin Gaye against Robin Thicke, Pharell Willaims and T.I for infringement. Upon conclusion of the trial, $7,000,000 was ordered as compensation. No amount of media-bashing could have resulted in this kind of favourable decisions.

In 2016, Nigeria remains the hotbed of Africa’s Afrobeats – an art form that mostly blends popular music genres with the Africa’s traditional sounds. Our music has gone global and music professionals, Investors and enthusiasts want more piece of the action. It is interesting to note that musicians are desperate to retain their spot atop the food chain, and many who shun collaboration with other creative people might get caught in the desperate act of appropriating other people’s work.

Therefore, while we deal with the scourge of piracy, there is an urgent need for musicians to live up to international best practices in preserving the sanctity of their copyrights.

•Ayinoluwa is a copyright lawyer in Lagos