Legal Implications of Copyright Infringement
Creativity is at the core of human existence. It is a way of life that values originality and embraces innovation. As an important aspect of life, people are constantly coming up with fresh concepts, imaginative writing, artistic creations, and other forms of imaginative expression.
What happens when these works get stolen by those who haven’t put any effort into the creation of those works? Is there any legal protection available to these authors and to their works? This article will provide an answer to these questions.
By the end of this article, the reader would understand the meaning of Copyright and its statutory provisions, the concept of Copyright Infringement and the remedies available for Copyright Infringement.
These fresh concepts, writings, artistic creations are regarded as Intellectual Property which pertains to any original creation of the human intellect. Copyright is a branch of Intellectual Property which affords the Creative exclusive rights over their literary, musical or artistic work to prevent unauthorized or unaccredited use of their work and preserve the value of those works.
Legal Framework of Copyright in Nigeria
To begin, it is necessary to clearly define Copyright before examining the legal framework of Copyright in Nigeria.
Copyright is defined by the 10th edition of the Black’s Law Dictionary at Page 411, as a property right in an original work of authorship (including literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and architectural works; motion pictures and other audio-visual works; and sound recordings) fixed in any tangible medium of expression, giving the holder exclusive right to reproduce, adapt, distribute, perform, and display the work.
The principal legislation regulating Copyright in Nigeria is the Nigerian Copyright Act of 1988 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Copyright Act’). The Copyright Act established the Nigerian Copyright Commission (hereinafter referred to as ‘the NCC’) as an independent regulatory authority responsible for the administration of Copyright in Nigeria1.
The aforementioned leads us to the logical conclusion that copyright is significant and has legal backing in Nigeria.
Additionally, copyright protection is acknowledged internationally. Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “Everyone has a right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.”
How Does Copyright Work?
The copyright of a work is vested in the author2. In the case of joint authorship, where the contribution of one author is inseparable from that of another, both or all authors involved shall be co-owners of the copyright. However, in the case of a work by an employee made as commissioned in the course of their employment, the copyright shall belong to the proprietor, unless otherwise provided by an agreement.
Additionally, it is common knowledge that excessive freedom gives room for abuse. As much as it is necessary to preserve and protect the works of people, it is also necessary to state the situations in which Copyright is made available to Authors/Creatives.
Copyright begins when an author places his or her work in material form, such as when a writer places the work on a piece of paper, a painter puts paint on a canvas, or a composer records a musical work on tape. There is no copyright in an idea. If the idea, however brilliant and however clever it may be, is nothing more than an idea, and is not put into any form of words, or any form of expression such as s picture or a play, then there is no such thing as copyright at all3.
However, not every work is eligible for Copyright. Section 1, 26 and 31 of the Copyright Act provides for the works that are eligible for Copyright as follows:
- Literary works;
- Musical works;
- Artistic works;
- Cinematography works;
- Sound recording;
- Performer rights; and
- Expression of Folklore
Registration Of Copyright
In Nigeria, any work eligible for Copyright right is protected without any formalities or requirement of registration, provided that the work has fulfilled the requirements of originality fixation and a definite medium of expression4. However, a copyright owner may voluntarily register and deposit his work at the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) under its copyright notification scheme.
The duration of Copyright for the eligible works is stated under the First Schedule to the Copyright Act. For literary, musical and artistic works, copyright subsist from when the work is made still seventy (70) years after the end of the year in which the author(s) dies. For cinematography films, photographs, and sound recordings, copyright shall subsist from when the work was made till fifty (50) years after the end of the year in which it was first published. Finally, copyright shall subsist in a broadcast still after fifty (50) years after the end of the year in which the broadcast first took place.
Copyright Infringement is defined by the 10th edition of the Black’s law dictionary at Page 901 as the act of violating any of a copyright owner’s exclusive rights. Any unauthorized use of a work protected by a copyright, whether through reproduction, distribution, mutilation, or public performance, constitutes a Copyright Infringement Section 15 of the Copyright act provides specifically for instances where Copyright Infringement occur5.
Action/ Remedies for Copyright Infringement
The Copyright Act provides that an action for infringement of Copyright should be instituted at the Federal High Court exercising jurisdiction in the place where the infringement occurred.
It should be noted that where in any action for infringement, it is proved that an infringement was committed, but at the time of the infringement, the defendant was not aware, and had no reasonable grounds for suspecting that the copyright existed in the work to which the action relates, the plaintiff will not be entitled to any damages against the defendant in respect of the infringement, but shall be entitled to an action of profits in respect of the infringement, whether or not any other relief is granted6. However, it is incumbent on anyone who proposes to make use of any artistic work which might infringe copyright, if it subsisted in the work, to make such inquiries and investigation as he reasonably can to satisfy himself that the work is free of copyright7.
Ultimately, where a case of Copyright Infringement has been established the remedies available can be civil or criminal; or both.
- Civil Remedies
A person whose copyright has been infringed can initiate a civil action at the Federal High Court8. Where such action is successful, the court can award: an award of damages; orders of injunction; or order for account. Additionally, the copyright owner will be entitled to all copies of the infringing materials the court may find9.
- Criminal Liability
Section 20 of the Copyright Act provides for the three categories of criminal liability for copyright infringement. In this case, the onus of proof of innocence is cast on the accused person. Section 30(1) of the Copyright act provides for the punishment of a fine or imprisonment to any person found guilty of Copyright Infringement.
Notably, a civil and criminal action may run simultaneously on the same fact of infringement, and the criminal action may subsist even if the parties had settled the civil claim.
There are numerous laws in place to protect copyright owners against infringement. However, the government and non-governmental organizations/bodies must actively counteract this crime by enforcing strict adherence to the law and working hard to protect the rights of copyright owners.
- Dugeri M, Entertainment Law in Nigeria (Adcore Consulting 2021) 40
- Omaplex, “THE CONCEPT OF COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT AND REMEDIES AVAILABLE – Omaplex Law Firm” (Omaplex Law Firm, July 1, 2020) <https://omaplex.com.ng/the-concept-of-copyright-infringement-and-remedies-available/> accessed October 2022
- “Identification And Proof Of Copyright Infringement In Copyrighted Works – Copyright – Nigeria” (June 24, 2021) <https://www.mondaq.com/nigeria/copyright/1084288/identification-and-proof-of-copyright-infringement-in-copyrighted-works> accessed October 2022
- “An Introduction to Copyright Protection in Nigeria – Inioluwa Olaposi – LawGlobal Hub” (LawGlobal Hub, June 5, 2022) <https://www.lawglobalhub.com/copyright-protection-in-nigeria/> accessed October 2022
- “Legal Remedies for Copyright Infringement in Nigeria – Lexology” (Lexology) <https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=ffc42333-ac14-4fd8-8c08-a05a9ffc4c4e#:~:text=A%20Copyright%20is%20infringed%20where,the%20owner%20of%20the%20copyright.> accessed October 2022
- Chioma U, “Copyright Infringement: An Overview Of Music Plagiarism In Nigeria – TheNigeriaLawyer” (TheNigeriaLawyer, March 20, 2022) <https://thenigerialawyer.com/copyright-infringement-an-overview-of-music-plagiarism-in-nigeria/> accessed October 2022
1Section 34(1) of the Copyright Act.
2Section 10(1) of the Copyright Act.
3 See DONOGHUE V. ALLIED NEWSPAPERS LTD (1937) 3 ALL ER 503
4Section 1(2) of the Copyright Act.
5See DIGITAL COMMUNICATION NETWORK (NIG) LTD V. NCC (2013) LPELR- 20797 (CA)
6Section 29(2) of the Copyright act.
7See Infabrics LTD v. Jaytex LTD (1980) 2 All ER 669.
8Section 24 of the Copyright Act
9Section 16 and 18 of the Copyright Act
Deborah Ali is a third year law student at the University of Jos, Nigeria. She is passionate about International law, global development, Intellectual Property, Technology and AI. She loves reading, writing and learning new languages: Korean, French and Spanish being her top choices.