Copyright Laws: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

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Can we really enforce Copyright Laws in Nigeria? It appears a lot of Nigerians, a big percentage of our population don’t know there are rules and regulations guiding intellectual properties of all dimensions. Different organisations have been at loggerheads over the control and enforcement of the Copyright Law.

Mr. Mayowa Ayilaran, the DG of the collecting society, Musical Collecting Society of Nigeria (MCSN). In this interview with Yinka Adejuwon, speaks on what needs to be done for the benefit of government, organisers, individuals and other stake holders.

With the non-renewal of COSON’S licence, is MCSN now a monopoly? 

No. The law does not restrict the terrain to monopoly, but if situation forced it, it is not the fault of the law.

What is the status of MCSN’s repertoire of both local and foreign?

Our repertoire remains intact. This has been confirmed in various court judgments.               

How can the lot of musicians be improved through the copyright laws?  

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MAYO AYILARAN

Provisions have been made in the existing law to better their lots. However, it is for the creators to seize the opportunities available to them.  The meat lies in going after the protection of the rights with maximum deployment of legal process, particularly civil actions and criminal actions as back up. For instance, MCSN was awarded N6 Billion in damages against Multichoice Nigeria Limited. If the NCC or the Nigeria Police had been engaged to launch criminal actions against the officials of the company, as allowed by the Copyright Act, the bulk of the money awarded would have, by now, been in creators’ pockets. 

visions have been made in the existing law to better their lots. However, it is for the creators to seize the opportunities available to them.  The meat lies in going after the protection of the rights with maximum deployment of legal process, particularly civil actions and criminal actions as back up. For instance, MCSN was awarded N6 Billion in damages against Multichoice Nigeria Limited. If the NCC or the Nigeria Police had been engaged to launch criminal actions against the officials of the company, as allowed by the Copyright Act, the bulk of the money awarded would have, by now, been in creators’ pockets. 

 How is copyright a big business?

This is a big task.  Let’s take the total numbers of hotels in Nigeria to be one million.  Let each of the hotels pay N100,000 annually for the music consumed in the hotels, we would have N10 Billion annual earnings just from hotels. Now think of other platforms where music and sound recordings, and even audio-visuals, are consumed, such as in broadcasting, bars, restaurants and lounges, online/digital platforms, etc.  Turn to copyright levy on materials from which creative works can be exploited such as computers, cell-phones, audio/video recorders, blank tapes and compact discs, etc.  When all these are harnessed, we are talking of a huge economic sector that may even overtake the oil and telecommunications industries.  It is for all concerned to get their acts together by settling down to do clean businesses, rather than grand-standing.

 What’s the problem in exploiting music for commercial purposes without permission?

Litigation which may lead to paying heavy damages and fines that may collapse entire businesses. This may also include prison terms.

Has the NCC been proactive in the enforcement of the Copyright Act?  

Before now, the NCC had been used as an instrument to harass, oppress and hound a perceived enemy by a section of the industry. That has stunted the growth and influence of the Commission in the last 30 years. With the new Director General, I believe that a new dawn is emerging in the NCC and we would see a more proactive NCC standing side by side with the societies and creators in the administration, and enforcement of the Copyright Act. 

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MAYO AYILARAN

It has been a while you distributed royalties to members of the society. When will MCSN be able to do that again?

Very soon

MCSN was out of business for long. How has the comeback been since the approval by the Supreme Court? 

MCSN was almost a dead and buried company but miraculously, it came back alive following the directives of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and also one Court of Appeal and two Supreme Court judgments affirming its position and legal status.  The comeback would have been more and extremely difficult without these judgments because Tony Okoroji came out to attack the AGF for daring to direct that MCSN be approved by the Nigerian Copyright Commission.  Okoroji abused the Minister of Justice and some officials of the Federal Ministry of Justice because MCSN was approved against his wish.  Okoroji wrote series of petitions against the Minister and campaigned vigorously in the media against MCSN, all of which were major distractions.  He used the platform of COSON to launch a legal challenge against the approval at the Federal High Court, Lagos division.  COSON’s case challenging the Attorney General directives and the approval of MCSN was eventually dismissed by the Federal High Court in February 2018. 

 What is the implication of the Supreme Court judgment on the legal status of MCSN? 

Firstly, it vindicated the AGF, Abubakar Malami’s position on the subject matter of copyright administration in general.  If the judgments went otherwise, MCSN would not have survived Okoroji’s onslaught.  Secondly, the judgments imply that MCSN has not lost anything or much, as it can go back, over time, to recoup or regain whatever might have been considered lost or stolen from it.  The judgments firmly put MCSN on a high pedestal in the administration of copyright in Nigeria.  MCSN has become a reference point, a precedent, in copyright administration.

  Is it true that COSON is still collecting royalties on behalf of intellectual property owners despite Court’s judgement? 

This is an issue that is best addressed by the NCC.  To us in MCSN, COSON without NCC’s approval cannot legally license, collect or distribute royalties in respect of copyright in Nigeria.  COSON, being an organization that came into existence after the establishment of the NCC and the enactments of copyright amendment decrees of 1992, 1999 and Copyright Act 2004, cannot operate without NCC’s approval.  The last Supreme Court judgment of 14 December 2018 in MCSN vs. Compact Discs Technologies & Ors is clear on this.  The NCC has charged COSON and some of its top officials to court on this issue.

Some believe that MCSN, COSON, even NCC are just playing politics with the back and forth movement because you are doing whatever you want and nobody can force any of you to face the book in case you are found wanting, eg, the blatant disregard of Court’s judgement banning one of you from collecting royalties and it still is doing that.

MCSN is not in the same class with COSON. In the past, COSON was using the NCC to oppress and hound MCSN, but MCSN is beyond that. We would hold everyone responsible under the law including ourselves in MCSN.  Most of our funds are with COSON, even our repertoire which they looted, but they will all be accounted for, and those who have been exploiting our repertoires (music, sound recordings and even audio visuals) would be invariably made to pay.  We are working closely with the NCC under the new Director General, John Asein, to reset the copyright sector for good and profitable business for our creators, the users and the government

 For all the years that MCSN was embroiled in legal actions with COSON and others, and couldn’t function as a Collective Society, what did you lose?

We may not be able to accurately say how much, but it is huge both in financial terms and emotional trauma. How much can one put on prison experience that MCSN’s officials suffered from the petition written by Okoroji and his collaborators under Nigerian Music Industry Coalition with which the NCC charged MCSN and seven of its officials to court in seven different criminal cases in different divisions of the Federal High Court across the nation?  How much can we put on the serious libel caused by Okoroji against MCSN and its top officials?  How do we calculate the unlicensed use of creative works and uncollected royalties under the claim of “we don’t know who to pay to? In all, Nigeria and the entire creative industry lost not less than 5 Trillion Naira in all these struggles.

 Can MCSN bounce back to reckoning as many intellectual property owners appear to have lost faith in any of the societies operative in Nigeria? 

MCSN is going to bounce back. That has already started. It is possible to do away with the services of collective management organisations (collecting societies) in most part of the world including Nigeria, where there is a copyright law or regime.  It is the easiest and most practicable way to harness and enjoy the huge rights granted by law to the creators of intellectual works.  The bad eggs in the societies would be exposed and expunged from the societies, and when necessary with the force of law, the societies would continue to grow in relevance.

With the non-renewal of COSON’S licence, does it mean that MCSN is now a monopoly? 

It depends on how people want to see it, but the fact remains that the law does not restrict the terrain to monopoly. But if the situation forced it, then it is not the fault or creation of the law.

 What is the status of MCSN’s repertoire of both local and foreign? 

MCSN’s repertoire remains intact.  This has been confirmed in various judgments including the Supreme Court judgments.

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