Osinbajo Reads Riot Act To Pirates



The existence of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) is not a new development. The basic aim of conferring the right on creators and inventors is to give them a social recognition as the original rights holders. This social recognition can further bring economic benefits to its holders in particular and the society in general.

Though it’s reasonable to award a person an IPR in the form of ‘limited monopolistic rights’ for his/her labour and efforts, exceptions in the form of various licences are also made so that public interest cannot be compromised. The public interest and personal interests are thus reconciled in the form of a limited period duration of these rights and their abuses can be tackled stringently, especially when public interest demands so.

But the problem of IPRs violations was not as much in ancient times as it is in the contemporary society.

This year’s edition of the COSON Lecture once again provided an opportunity for practitioners and stakeholders in the entertainment industry to take another look at copyright issues under the theme, Intellectual Property Rights In Digital Age. Held at the Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, the event, which was organised as part of the 2015 COSON Week, is not only contemporary but also relevant and appropriate in our current circumstances as a nation, considering the country’s growth and the quest for diversification of the economy.

Though the guest lecture Prof. Bankole Sodipo and other panelists such as Audu Maikori of Chocolate City, Tunji Sotimirin, Lagbaja highlighted the challenges of intellectual property rights protection in the digital economy, the Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, in his keynote address, noted that intellectual property right have become increasingly important in a wide range of human activities, not the least so in the area of trade and cultural exchange.

The Vice President, who was represented by the DG Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) Afam Ezekude, said the adoption of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (known as the TRIPS Agreement) as part of the World Trade Organisations instruments, embraced after the Uruguay round table negotiations, underscores the connection between protection of intellectual property right and promotion of trade across national boundaries.

“The general belief is that, a strong intellectual property regime encourages domestic innovation, creativity and commitment to research. These are vital ingredients for societal development. By granting statutory protection and certain limited exclusive right to creators and inventors, the intellectual property regime affords such person a market monopoly over their creations, thereby offering an opportunity for them to secure return on their investment of time, other resources, including intellect, skills, as well as money,” Osinbajo said.

The protection of copyright in Nigeria dates back to the pre-colonial era, which our forebears were used to showing appreciation to performers and traditional artistes either through cash donations or elaborate hospitality, each time such performer is invited. However, this traditional concept coincides with underlying philosophy of modern copyright system, which provides protection to certain categories of works with the understanding that beneficiaries of such protection will be able to leverage on their exploitation to drive economy.

According to Osinbajo, the current framework of copyright protection in Nigeria, the Copyright Act, Cap C28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria provides protection of literary works such as novels, poems and plays; cinematograph films, musical works, artistic works and architectural designs.

“There exist moral, social and economic justification for the protection of intellectual property. As a fundamental rule of natural justice, every man deserves the fruit of his labour, and for that reason, nobody should be permitted to miss appropriate such benefit.”

The Vice President noted that the creative industries account for a considerable amount of inputs to the sustenance of our national economy, adding that the recent rebasing of Nigeria’s economy, which placed Nigeria as the largest economy in Africa, indicated that the entertainment subsector of the creative economy has serious potentials for economic development.

“The clear implication of this development is that the level of protection available for creative works will certainly affect the economy one way or the other. The copyright system being the framework of protection of creative works must be made effective in order to guarantee optimum performance of the sector in the overall national economic index,” he said.

But the history of copyright through the last four centuries has been characterised by the challenges of emerging technologies and the conflict between protection and access. New technologies such as videocassette recorder in the late 1970s, and the photocopying machines constituted considerable challenge to copyright law and the industries that rely on it for their sustenance.

“While still pondering on the effects and indeed solutions to the problem of such new technologies, more intense challenges and wider opportunities of copyright infringement are being now presented by the emerging digital and Internet-based technologies of today. Copying and transmission of materials are rendered easy with the result that intellectual property rights became more prone to a violation,” he said.

Osinbajo noted that the creative and innovative industries are among the groups affected by the vulnerability of information technology system, adding that, “it is this fear of losing control that constitutes the main challenge of managing intellectual property rights in the digital network environment. By its global reach, openness, versatility and largely unregulated character Internet has created a fertile ground for certain abuses, which impact negatively on innocent users, while providing fast low-risk profit for dubious persons behind the abuses.”

To the Vice President, the law must create a seamless transition from analogue to digital modes of exploitation, urging the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) to expedite action on the reviews of the Copyright Act.

“A cursory look at the present copyright Act will show that the legislation was made at a time, when the creative economy was largely driven by analogue technology. With the advent of digital technology, the application of the law becomes difficult. Consequently, a review of that framework is at this point critical to the survival of the copyright system in Nigeria.

“I’m also aware that the NCC is taking steps to review the Copyright Act with a view to realigning it with current realities and ensuring that Nigeria also meets its various treaty obligations. There’s need to ensure that such initiative is carried to the logical conclusion.”

He assured that the drive of the present administration to ensure that laws are respected will be taken from a holistic point of view, and will address issues of violations with the decisiveness it deserves.

“Nigeria can no longer be treated as dumping ground for counterfeit and pirated products, be that in the creative industry or the critical sectors like health and consumer products,” he said.

For Nigeria as a country, he noted, there’s need, not only to reform our intellectual property legislations to cater for new exploitation environment but also enhance infrastructural base to enable the continent to derive the optimum benefit of the system.

“At the heart of piracy lies the issue of scarcity of genuine products. The void created by the absence of credible distribution channels for genuine works has not only affected the fortunes of right owners in the domestic market, but also internationally, where Nigerian works have become major entertainment products. This scenario has once again brought home the press need for establishment of structures to support the business aspect of entertainment,” he said.

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