‘Nigeria’s creative industry can boost economic growth’
There’s been growing advocacy for better reforms in Nigeria’s intellectual property law space especially in the creative industries, but let’s start with your thoughts, and your perspective on how far reaching those laws are in terms of how they protect property rights. Obafemi let’s start with you.
OBAFEMI: The good thing is that as far as the creative industry is concerned we have the Nigerian Copyright Act which regulates things related to music, films, dramatic works etc. and I can tell you that the Nigerian Copyright Act is one of the best in the world and that is the real truth. What we need is a lot of consciousness and awareness raised with the people in the industry so that they understand that this law is there and so that they see how they can take advantage of it. Further good news is the fact that there is a new bill that has been put together by the Nigerian copyright commission that is now taking care of the short comings of the present law.
Fela let me come to you. It’s interesting what Obafemi just said. You’re a player in the industry, and you see this happen where one person takes another person to court over intellectual property theft. Would you agree with that in terms of how that is addressing the lapses that some people see in the industry?
FELA: As my learned friend here said, I think it’s down to the individual and individual awareness. What’s happening in the industry is that it’s growing. The creative industry is growing rapidly and it’s becoming the focus now in terms of potential growth for Nigeria. The laws are there. The copyright act is there but I think what has been happening especially in Nigeria, but also in other parts of the world is that people disregard these laws and feel that not much can be done if they take someone else’s work and only change a word or two. What we try to do at my firm is put the structure in place so that there is management, and that your management is involved with the conversations between you, the investor, and the producer so that records are kept. Once that’s in place and companies like the one I run are taken more seriously then intellectual property theft, at least in the entertainment industry, will happen less and less.
But are you aware of the reforms that Obafemi says have taken place to protect the industry?
FELA: Yes the reforms are there. It’s only natural in the creative industry especially for written work. You have the writer’s guild in the United States, where written work is uploaded on a database so anyone can go and see who owns what. I think this bill and the reforms are going to take effect and people will need to take it more seriously. That’s what it is. It’s down to individual, awareness. It’s down to respecting individual creativity and not overstepping the bounds.
Obafemi, before now, before the reforms were put in place, how would you describe how far reaching the laws were?
OBAFEMI: Like I said before, the present copyright act in Nigeria is one of the best in the world and it is better than other aspects of Intellectual Property laws in Nigeria. For instance the Trademarks Act has been there since 1938 and it has never been reviewed or amended, but the copyright act of Nigeria started from 1972, and was amended in 1988 and it had another amendment in 1992. That shows you that that law itself has been dynamic. And as I speak, I was a member of the technical working group that worked on the new bill for the Nigerian Copyright Bill. The important thing about the new bill is that it provides for what you call the technology era. The present law does not take care of things that happen in the digital space. The new bill has been able to address this. The good thing is when this law was put together it was put in the public domain.
What I’m deducing now is that the problem has a lot to do with awareness, because if I do not know that there’s a law that protects me when my work is stolen then I don’t know what to do in the event of intellectual property theft.
OBAFEMI: I think there’s a level of apathy in many of the industry players. They do not see the role of lawyers in what they do. They not see the role of talent management like Fela’s company. Until you create the entire value chain and put everything together, and know that they are running businesses not indulging in hobbies. And also learn that they are trying to make money and impact on the economy of the country, then you ensure that the entire value chain is engaged. For instance if you are going into film production, the law actually provides that you need to go into contract in writing with everybody that plays a part in the production of that movie.
That seems quite basic. I would imagine that everybody does that.
OBAFEMI: But then the truth is that you don’t find that. I’ve seen a lot of script writers come to me after they’ve got their fingers burnt and I have had to resolve that moving from behind the scenes instead of the scriptwriter or creative player, negotiating from a point of strength right from the beginning. So many are just operating on a friendly basis. They say, “Oh he’s my pal, let me just give him this story.” But things happen!
So Fela this is one of the things that you try to prevent. You try to dot the Is and cross the Ts. I want you to give me a practical example since you’re in the field. What typically happens? How is someone’s work stolen and how is it usually resolved?
FELA: What usually happens from experience is that there’s a conversation over drinks. Someone says I’m writing a screenplay and the other person asks to take a look, and those conversations continue over email and before they realise they’ve passed n most of the work to the third party who can now change some of the words, change the title and make use of it and can come back to you and say well I didn’t steal your work. That’s how it usually transpires. That is a basic explanation. How it has to be resolved now is what my Obafemi just alluded to. There have to legal ramifications. What people don’t realise is you can’t just take someone’s work. We’ve seen examples recently, and it’s happened in the past. Some people try to resolve it with a friendly handshake,but from our perspective, people in the creative space need managers.
Because when they have managers they deal with the business side of things?
FELA: The value chain is very important. The last point I want to make is we live in an internet age. Content is available everywhere. You can access content just by the click of a button so it is more important to put the structures in place; to get lawyers to represent you when you’re trying to present your work so that there are no grey areas. In Nigeria, we need to realise that we need to protect ourselves initially and we also need to realise that the work needs to be given the value it deserves.
A general question now. Would it be effective if there was advocacy industry across the value chain of the industry to let people understand that no player in the industry exists in isolation, and thet they are better protected when you are part of the value chain?
OBAFEMI: Absolutely. What we’ve found as lawyers is that because the industry is growing and it has grown so informally, you cannot approach it the same way you would approach your typical oil and gas client. So you find that lawyers are beginning to create new products for people in the industry that’s easy for them to identify with and then you engage in ensuring that they’re protected and that at the end of the day they are running a business that is profitable for them. But you cannot take away the importance of the legal aspect.