New Dawn Nigeria

What is copyright?

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There is not one definition of Copyright that is universally accepted. It appears to be easier to describe what copyright is than to define it. This may be so because the very concept of copyright can be confusing.

Segun is a young barber and a committed fan of 2Face Idibia. It was indeed 2face’s African Queen that brought Segun and his latest girlfriend, Joke, together. Hearing that 2face has just released some new hot sound, Segun rushes to a record store to buy 2Face’s latest C.D. and takes this to his shop where he plays the new C.D. to his enjoyment and that of his customers. How do you explain to Segun that what he has done is against the law? After all, he bought the C.D. with his money and played it in his shop? The truth however is that Segun can play the C.D. for his personal enjoyment or in a domestic environment, as much as he wants. Once he intends to play it to all comers (communicate it to the public) or use it in a commercial setting, he must first obtain a licence or be liable for copyright infringement.

Imagine that Ken Calebs Olumese, the Guvnor of one of Nigeria’s most famous nightclubs, Niteshift Coliseum had given an opportunity to Bimby, a young Tiwa Savage – wanna – be to come to the Coliseum and launch a career, singing already popular songs. If no prior copyright licence had been obtained, both Olumese and Bimby, the star in the making, may find themselves in court as defendants in a copyright infringement suit. The Guvnor may ask: Have I done wrong to give a chance to a young person to pursue a career in the arts? What he has done is not wrong. What he may not have done is license his premises for the performance of music in which copyright subsists and this is against the law.

Contrast the two mentioned situations with the following:-

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Emeka and Chike are stock traders based in Lagos. They have been close friends for a period of ten years. Emeka at lunch, one afternoon, speaks to Chike confidentially about the brilliant ideas he has for a book he believes will revolutionize stock trading in Nigeria. Several times, after work, Emeka who lives in the mainland will call Chike on the phone to discuss, chapter by chapter, the intended contents of the expected book. Unknown to Emeka, Chike always made notes of these conversations.

One weekend, Emeka who had just left Ikoyi Club decided to pay his friend a surprise visit at his Dolphin Estate home. Chike was not home but Emeka was let in by Chike’s wife, Lola who excitedly ushered Emeka into the living room.

On the center table in the living room was a set of six books of the same title which Lola proudly informed Emeka were delivered fifteen minutes earlier by someone from the office of Chike’s publishers. Lola went on excitedly to say that they were the first copies to roll off the press. None of what Lola said made sense to Emeka who had never been informed that his best friend was writing a book. He picked up a copy of the book to look at. Staring at him was the glossy cover with the words; Making Millions in the Nigerian Stock Market – Chike Nwosu. Stunned, Emeka quickly flipped through the book that had become hot in his hands. The title was the same as that of the book he had been planning to write for several months. Chapter after chapter contained the same ideas which he thought made his intended book unique, ideas he had shared with his friend, Chike.

Lola was, to say the least, alarmed at the expression on the face of the usually amiable Emeka who stormed out of her home muttering repeatedly, “bastard … bastard”.

Leaving Chike’s house, Emeka drove like someone possessed to the home of his lawyer friend, Musa, to whom he narrated Chike’s betrayal. He asked Musa to immediately commence an action in court against Chike for the infringement of his copyright and to restrain him from launching the book. For the second time in a few hours, Emeka was shocked. He was informed by Musa that as despicable and unconscionable as Chike’s action was, he had not infringed Emeka’s copyright. The copyright law has nothing in it to protect the likes of Emeka!

The truth is that copyright does not protect ideas. For anyone to enjoy copyright, his ideas must have been put in a tangible form.

What then is copyright? The simplest known definition of copyright is “the right to copy” but copyright grants a lot more than the right to copy. The simple definition is therefore very limited. I have defined Copyright as a monopoly right which the creator of an eligible work acquires as soon as such a work is put in a tangible form and which right precludes all others from the exploitation of such work without the authorization of the creator, for a specified period.

My definition takes into consideration several important features of copyright such as these; The rights granted by copyright are exclusive or monopoly rights. These rights are enjoyed in the first instance only by the creator of a work, who if he wishes can transfer the rights. There are clearly stated works which are eligible for copyright under Nigerian law. Any work not so stated may not enjoy copyright. Copyright protection begins as soon as an eligible work is fixed in a medium of expression. No formality or registration is required for such protection. Any exploitation of a work in which copyright subsists, without the authorization or licence of the owner of the copyright is an infringement of the right of the owner. Copyright gives the author negative rights – the rights to prevent the doing of certain things rather than the rights to compel the doing of anything. Copyright is not an everlasting right. The right is limited for a specified period.

If Chief Okosieme goes to an art gallery or exhibition to buy a painting or a work of sculpture, he owns the painting or the sculptural work. He can enjoy these works as much as he pleases in a private setting. If the Chief thereafter decides to take photographs of the painting or sculptural work which end up in a calendar or magazine, he may have gone beyond the boundaries of ‘fair use’ and entered the realm of copyright infringement and may pay a heavy price for enjoying rights which he does not own.

When Segun the young barber who loves the music of 2Face Idibia went to the C.D. shop and paid his money, he acquired ownership of a copy of the work. He may play the C.D. in his home for his enjoyment and that of his family and friends. He may lend the copy to his friend but not for a fee. As soon as he begins to play the music for all comers in a place open to the public or in a commercial environment, Segun is exceeding the rights of the owner of a copy and enjoying the rights of a copyright owner. If Segun copies the music to play on his iPod, that may be considered fair use. If he burns several copies to give to his friends, then he is no longer acting as the owner of a copy, but a copyright owner. He is now on the fringe of becoming a law breaker.

The same maybe said of DJ Humanity, a radio Disc Jockey, who rushes to buy a copy of the new hit song of Olamide and runs to the studio to be the first to play it on air. If the radio station is not licensed to play the music of Olamide and his sound recording, DJ Humanity may not have bought a hit song for the station but a lawsuit. The ownership of the copy does not entitle either the D.J. or the radio station to broadcast the work. If Humanity works for a nightclub or a restaurant, the consequence may in fact be the same.

The foregoing, in my series of copyright lectures in “Saturday Breakfast”, is adapted from my book, “Copyright & the New Millionaires” I hope you found it informative.

See you next week.

By Tony Okoroji

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