Improving The Administration Of Intellectual Property Rights By Chinyere Akachukwu

Copyright Infringement: COSON Slams N105m Suit On Young Shall Grow Motors

This is…a clarion call to the Nigerian legislature to develop the Nigerian Copyright Act; to the executive government to put in place efficient systems that enable people and companies to register their intellectual property rights with ease and within the fastest possible time; and to the judiciary to take active steps in ensuring that intellectual property law suits are concluded swiftly without sacrificing justice on the alter of speed.

Introduction

The world is moving at a fast pace and the tools being employed in this rat race are of an intellectual nature. There is a shift towards recognising that all elements of creation can and should be protected! Metaphorically speaking, the seeds sown by a farmer and the crops that grow are both equally important. Any idea could start a billion dollar business and as a result, that idea should be capable of being protected. The existence and protection of non-tangible rights, such as those of music, lyrics, broadcasts, words, and acts, in a broad sense, are what intellectual property rights are all about.

Consider the popular story of a university student and his friends who sat in a dorm room and came up with an idea to enable other university students communicate with one another via an internal network. Today, that idea has given life to the billion dollar social networking platform called Facebook. This just goes to illustrate that an idea, intangible as it may seem, can reap a lot of financial rewards when implemented properly. The rest of the world has realised this and has decided that ideas do need to be legally protected in order to secure the interests of their originators or creators.

This is where intellectual property rights come in. Intellectual property rights come in various forms, such as patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc.

Administration of Copyright In Nigeria, Viz-aViz The Copyright Act 1988

Nations have entered treaties and drafted legislations that protect their interests and those of their citizens in both the international and domestic communities, and markets, etc. The statute regulating copyright in Nigeria is the Copyright Act 1988.

A look at the Nigerian legal system will reveal that copyright is not as heavily litigated as other types of law, such as the law of torts, contract law, property law, etc. There has however been some prominent intellectual property suits. One of such is King Sunny Ade versus his record production company – African Songs, and its subsidiary, Take Your Choice Stores. The suit was first instituted in 1975 and the judge had ordered the companies to return the master tapes of King Sunny Ade’s songs, which was however disobeyed. King Sunny Ade consequently instituted another suit at the Federal High Court in 1997, to obtain the master tapes and seek redress for the infringement of his copyright to his musical works (the master tapes). In 2015, the Federal High Court finally ruled in favour of King Sunny Ade, granting him damages to the tune of about N500 million, as well as general damages of N3 million. This was viewed as a major victory for intellectual property rights and the creative industry at large, as it showed the Court as taking active steps in the protection of intellectual property rights. On the other hand, it is quite alarming that it took over 18 years before the Court delivered its judgment. This is even besides the appeal that has been filed by African Songs and which would take a few more years, if the matters goes up to the Supreme Court! An unduly lengthy court action will definitely prohibit aggrieved parties form turning to the Court for the protection of their rights or for redress for a wrong done to them.

Another example of the shifting trend towards the recognition of intellectual rights and the need to protect these was the agreement between the National Copyright Commission (NCC) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), that the NBC would pay royalties to the NCC for the broadcasting of musical works and sound recordings of Nigerian musicians.

Despite these little bits of progress, a lot still needs to be done in order to develop the administration of intellectual property rights in Nigeria. For example, from my experience, it takes about a year (if not more), to complete the registration process and obtain the Certificate of Registration of Trademark at the Trademarks Registry. It is hoped that the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) would beam its spotlight on this area and take necessary measures to turn it around.

Furthermore, there is a need to create more awareness about the existence of intellectual property rights. It is suggested that Collecting Societies take steps to inform and educate the public of their rights. Collecting Societies are recognised under section 32(b) of the Copyright (Amendment Act) 1992 as an association of copyright owners, which has its principal objectives as the negotiation and granting of licensees, collection and distribution of royalties in respect of copyright works. Perhaps the Act needs to increase the powers of Collecting Societies to enable the enforcement of the intellectual property rights. However the powers of Collecting Societies are currently limited, as they are required to seek and obtain the approval of the NCC before acting. This was the decision of the Court in NCC & ORS V. Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (2016) LPELR-41009(CA).

Of utmost importance is the fact that the Copyright Act 1988 needs to be reviewed and amended. The United Kingdom passed their copyright act, the Copyright Patents and Design Act in 1988 and has amended it numerous times over the years up until 2014, whereas Nigeria has amended the law only two times. These amendments and reviews benefitted the laws greatly, as they fixed the gaps in them and adjusted the legislation in ways that would benefit the people and government at large. A sterling example that portrays the inadequacies inherent in our Copyright Act 1988 is the fact that ‘copyright’ is defined as ‘Copyright under the Act’. The definition section does not, in my opinion, do much to define copyright at all.

Conclusion

Intellectual property is a gold mine that has the capacity to improve Nigeria’s economic fortunes. Most countries across the world have put in place adequate measures to enable their citizens tap into this gold mine, by putting in place laws and systems that effectively govern the administration of copyright. This is therefore a clarion call to the Nigerian legislature to develop the Nigerian Copyright Act; to the executive government to put in place efficient systems that enable people and companies to register their intellectual property rights with ease and within the fastest possible time; and to the judiciary to take active steps in ensuring that intellectual property law suits are concluded swiftly without sacrificing justice on the alter of speed.

Chinyere Akachukwu is an Associate at Kenna Partners.