Nigeria’s Audio Visual Rights Society Clocks One

Untitled-1There was no party or cocktail to mark the one-year anniversary of the establishment of Audio Visual Rights Society of Nigeria (AVRS), Nigeria’s first and only Collective Management Organization (CMO) for cinematographic work.

Rather, the leadership of AVRS issued a terse statement on Friday, November 20, 2015 to, as the AVRS Chairman Mahmood Ali-Balogun explained, “Remind stakeholders that the CMO which the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) had approved to function as the sole CMO for cinematograph films in Nigeria” in November 2015 was already a year old.

The NCC had announced in October 2014 that it had licensed AVRS to be to the cinematographic industry in Nigeria what the existing Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) and Reproductive Rights Society of Nigeria (REPRONIG) licensed few years ago, were to musical works, sound recordings, and literary works respectively.

The wanton exploitation of intellectual property rights in Nigeria and the unrelenting struggle by rights owners to confront such abuses necessitated the establishment of these CMOs to meet all necessary conditions required for their establishment.

But the leadership of the AVRS did not immediately begin to pound on right users as a lot of right owners had expected. Following the approval from government, AVRS embarked on a series of stakeholders’ meetings across the country with a view to enlightening stakeholders in the film industry on the purpose, nature and operations of the new CMO. Indeed, for the chairman of AVRS, the enlightenment programme was necessary ‘to establish a cordial working relationships with various stakeholders in the sector.

According to Ali-Balogun, “The various meetings we held brought an unprecedented boost to the membership of AVRS. The sensitization drive also afforded AVRS the opportunity to interact with some major commercial users of audio visual works including Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) on their obligations to the society”.

Ali-Balogun also explained that in the last one year, the AVRS, as a way of consolidating on the gains of the stakeholders meetings and preparatory to the commencement of actual licensing and distribution of royalties in line with its core approval mandate, has been involved “in the process of continuous public enlightenment, membership data analysis and documentation, capacity building training for its directors and key management staff, as well as strategic partnership building within and outside the country to further boost its capacity to manage the rights of its members whose works are massively exploited in Nigeria and beyond”.

The movie director and producer of the big budget feature Tango With Me hinted that presently the AVRS shares offices with the Lagos office of Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) in Ikoyi. He said it boasts of an authoritatively large repertoire of audio visual works by hundreds of its members across the country.
“The society is also firming up MoUs and agreements for reciprocal representations with sister CMOs and organizations such as the Ugandan Federation of Movie Industry (UFMI), Audio Visual Rights Society of Ghana, Copyright Society of Botswana (COSBOTS) and the Anti-Counterfeiting Agency of Kenya, among others”.

Similarly, the CMO, according to Ali-Balogun has initiated high-level discussions with relevant international organizations such as the France-based Confederation of International Societies of Authors and Composers, the Geneva-based Association of International Collective Management of Audio Visual Works and the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) based in the United States. Ali-Balogun believes that with strong international alliances, accreditations and endorsements, AVRS shall not only guarantee global copyright protection and payments for the works of its members in due course, but also achieve the assignment of the International Standard Audio Visual Number (ISAN) for its members’ works.

The next stage for AVRS even as it pursues the primary objective of ensuring global protection of Nigerian audio visual contents, is the commencement of actual licensing for use of audio visual works and Ali-Balogun confirmed that the exercise would commence as from the first quarter of 2016’.

Mahmood Ali-Balogun

Mahmood Ali-Balogun

However, he urged members of the public, particularly persons and organizations whose businesses and operations involve the commercial use of audio visual content “such as broadcasting stations, cable transmitting and re-transmitting companies, advertising agencies, hotels, telecoms companies, hospitals, restaurants and relaxation spots, transport companies, banks and super markets” to cooperate with AVRS and meet their copyright obligations in line with extant laws.

While reviewing one of the skeletal operations of the AVRS, Ali-Balogun remarked that the past year has been very challenging, noting, “The milestones so far recorded has been encouraging. We are encouraged at what we have been able to achieve so far and we are emboldened by the support and encouragement of the NCC, NFC, Norwegian Copyright Development Organization (NORCODE), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), COSON, the media and major stakeholders including top Nollywood celebrities who have selflessly lent their star power to the promotion of our anti-piracy campaign and our core objectives”.

For Ali-Balogun and the team at AVRS, the months and years ahead promise to be much more challenging as stakeholders were surely anticipating an invitation to queue up at annual general meetings to collect royalties as COSON has done now for a couple of years.

He expressed optimism that the issue of royalty collection by members of AVRS will happen soon but made an appeal, “I appeal for everyone’s cooperation as we move to establish a solid and inclusive collective management regime. I also urge all of us in the creative industries to identify with, and play our part by sharing our opinions on the on-going review of the Nigerian Copyright Act initiated by the NCC.
“Furthermore, President Muhammadu Buhari has stated, at different occasions, the Federal government’s resolve to protect intellectual property rights and drastically reduce counterfeiting and piracy, re-equip government agencies charged with the regulation and protection the creative sector, and boost the overall performance of the creative economy. I commend the stance of the Federal Government in this respect, and call for action on the foregoing pronouncements”.

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