Copyright Protection in Nigeria

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This article explains the law on copyright protection in Nigeria, the rights of an author, and the consequences of copyright infringement in Nigeria.

A copyright is a type of intellectual property that gives ownership to the original author of tangible works of intellectual property. It grants the author exclusive right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute a form of work (such as a literary, musical, or artistic work).

Copyright protection in Nigeria cannot be granted for an abstract idea. The idea has to be put down either in writing or on tape even if it is not published. The publication of a work isn’t a necessity for copyright protection in Nigeria. For instance, Mr A can get copyright once he puts his song down even if the song isn't produced.

The Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) is the government agency responsible for all copyright matters in Nigeria. Any work for copyright is registered on the NCC website. The NCC website doesn't allow for multiple registrations at a time but allows for one application to be registered at a time.

Although, Multiple works can be registered as a collection, in one application having one title. For instance, a music album containing multiple songs is treated as one while a movie with different parts is treated as separate.

The primary law protecting copyright in Nigeria is the Copyright Act, Cap C28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.

Other than the Copyright Act, there are other regulations that regulate certain activities relating to copyright works. They include:

• The Copyright (Optical Discs Plants) Regulations 2006.

• Copyright (Collective Management Organizations) Regulations 2007.

• Copyright (Levy on Materials) Order 2012.

Impact of international treaties on copyright protection in Nigeria

Copyright protection is territorial and Nigeria as a member of some international treaties and conventions gives Nigerians copyright protection in countries that are also members of such treaties e.g., the Berne Convention.

The copyright Act doesn’t provide registration as a condition to be fulfilled for copyright protection in Nigeria. However, the Nigerian Copyright Commission established a voluntary copyright registration scheme. This enables authors and copyright owners to notify the commission when a work is created or that it exists this enables the commission to maintain its records.

Registration of copyright with the commission gives the work certain advantages such as:

• The commission record provides an independent source of verifying information about the work or author.

• The acknowledgement certificate issued by the commission provides prima facie evidence of facts.

• The registration Provides a depository for preserving original copies.

• The information stored with the commission, offers information to the public and license of work.

When a work is registered, its kept in the commission record and forms part of a public record. All information provided when copyright is registered is available to the public and the internet. copies of the work for a third party are only available when the author or copyright owner authorizes it.

According to section 38 of the Copyright Act, persons appointed as officers to the Commission, engaged with the duty of monitoring, reporting, or enforcement of the Copyright Act is a Copyright Inspector.

According to Section 1 of the Copyright Act cap28 LFN, 2004, The works eligible for copyright includes:

1. Literary works (e.g., Novels, poems, articles).

2. Musical works (e.g., musical composition).

3. Artistic works (e.g., Painting, Drawings, Sculpture).

4. Cinematograph works (e.g., films).

5. sound recording (e.g., musical compositions).

6. Broadcast (e.g., radio or podcast broadcast).

The nature of copyright is that it gives protection to owners of original work and restricts unlicensed persons from:

• Reproducing, performing, or publishing the work in any form.

• Making or including the work in any cinematography.

• Making copies or adaptations of the work.

• Distributing the work to the public for commercial purposes.

Rights of an author under the Nigerian Copyright Act

An author can transfer rights

The rights conferred on an author for copyright protection in Nigeria are exclusive and apply to the original work of the author.

The right of an author is provided in Sections 11, 12 & 13 of the Copyright Act. The term author includes heirs and successors in the title of the work.

The rights include:

• A right to claim ownership of work and acknowledgement of authorship.

• Right to seek relief where there is an alteration or other derogatory action concerning his work.

• Right to determine the condition for the commercial use of the work to a third party.

• The right to share in proceeds of the sale of the work.

There are conversion rights given on all infringing copies of a work or substantial part of the work with copyright i.e. all equipment used or intended for use in the production of infringing copies, will become the property of the owner of the copyright.

The conditions to exercise the rights given to an author are determined by regulations made by the Nigerian Copyright Commission established under section 34 of this Act. These rights don’t apply to architectural works or applied art.

The right to claim ownership is inalienable and imprescriptible i.e. it isn't affected by the lapse of time. while the right to share in sale proceeds applies to all original work.

Transfer of author's rights

The creator of a copyrighted work is an author. An author is allowed to transfer rights to a third party. It can be done by assignment, testamentary deposition, or by operation of law. When copyright is transferred to another person, the person becomes the owner of the copyright. 

Infringement of copyright in Nigeria occurs when the right of an author or owner of a copyright is violated by an unauthorized person. It is the statutory breach of duty owed to the author or owner.

Under Section 15 of the Nigerian Copyright Act, an infringement occurs when an unlicensed person or a person without authorization by the owner of the copyright does the following:

• Executes an act that is controlled by copyright.

• Imports a copy of work to Nigeria. which if it was made in Nigeria, would be an infringing copy.

• Exhibit in public any article in respect of which copyright is infringed.

• Distribute by trade, for any detrimental purpose to the copyright owner, any article that infringes copyright.

• Produces or has in possession machines or equipment used to make infringed copies of a work.

• Perform for business purposes or as a supporting facility to a trade or business, any work in which copyright subsists.

• Permits a public place of entertainment or business to be used for performing infringing work.

Notwithstanding the Copyright Act or any other provision, copyright is not infringed where the work is contained in the National Archives established under the National Archives Act or a public record of a State for the storage or custody of which provision is made by

The person whose right is breached is entitled to an award of damages, injunction, and any other remedies depending on the circumstances. The action for copyright infringement is brought by the owner of the copyright or an authorized person (e.g., assignee, licensee).

When copyright is jointly owned the action can’t be brought by one party without leave of court, or the co-owner added as a plaintiff or defendant.

The Federal High Court has exclusive jurisdiction for the trial of copyright offences or disputes in Nigeria. In an infringement action, relief of damages, injunction, accounts, or otherwise is available to the plaintiff. However, an injunction relief isn't passed in an infringement proceeding involving a completed or partly completed building to be demolished or prevent a building from completion

When an infringement occurred but at the time of the occurrence, the defendant was unaware that the work is copyrighted, the plaintiff isn’t entitled to damages but is entitled to an account of profits in regards to the infringement.

When an infringement is proved or admitted, the court will regard the outrageousness of the infringement and the benefit accrued in assessing the damages and may add additional damages.

No action for copyright infringement can be commenced by a person who carries on the business of negotiating and granting licenses, collecting and distributing royalties of copyright works, or representing more than fifty owners of copyright in any category of works (MTN communications LTD v Musical copyright Society of Nigeria LTD/GTE (2017), unless it is approved under section 39 of the Act to operate as a collecting society or is issued a certificate of exemption by the Commission.

A person who infringes on copyright is subject to Criminal Liability under section 20 of the Copyright Act. Also, in the decided case of the Nigerian Copyright Commission & ORS v Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria LTD & ORS (2013), it was held that an act of infringement constitutes a crime. The following people are subject to criminal liability under Section 20 of the Copyright Act:

  • A person that makes an infringing copy of a copyrighted work for business purposes, imports into Nigeria a copy of any work which if it was made in Nigeria would be an infringing copy or makes equipment for an infringing copy of any work is guilty of an offense. The liability on conviction is a fine not exceeding one thousand Naira (1,000) for each copy of the work or a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years, or both.
  • Any person that possesses, exposes, distribute, or offers for sale an infringing copy of a work which is copyrighted for business purposes and if made in Nigeria would be an infringing copy, is liable on conviction to a fine of one hundred Naira (100 Naira) for each copy, or to a term of imprisonment not more than two years or both.
  • Any person who without the consent from the owner, for commercial purposes distributes copies of a work in which copyright subsists, by way of rental, lease, or hire is guilty of an offense and is liable to a conviction of a fine of one hundred Naira (100 Naira) for each copy or imprisonment for six months or both.

However, if unawareness is proved to the satisfaction of the court that the person had no reason to believe that such copy was an infringing copy of any work, or that the equipment was not to make infringing copies of the work, the person hasn’t committed an offence.

Whether an alleged offender is convicted or not, the court can order all copies of the work or machines in the possession of the alleged offender that are infringing copies of the work to be destroyed or delivered up to the owner of the copyright.

Where an article is seized by a police officer or an authorized officer in connection with a suspected offence, a court on the application of the Attorney-General of the Federation or owner of the copyright may order the article to be destroyed or delivered to the owner of the copyright even if no person is charged with the offence.

Notwithstanding the provisions of any law, both criminal and civil action can be taken simultaneously regarding the same infringement under the Copyright Act. (e.g. Mr B can be convicted of two years imprisonment and still be made to pay a fine).

However, Under the second schedule of the copyright Act, the exceptions from copyright control on copyright offences include:

• Using a copyrighted work for research purposes, private use, criticism, or review of current events and there is an acknowledgement of work and authorship.

• Making any of the work into parody or caricature.

• The inclusion of artistic work in a film, reproduction, and distribution of copies of the artistic work to the public.

• An incidental inclusion of artistic work in a film or broadcast.

The exception for infringement is subject to the condition that the act is for public use or view for it not to be considered an infringement.

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