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Nigeria May Get New Copyright Act

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The Senate on 6th April 2022, passed a bill to repeal the Copyright Act, Laws of the Federation 2004 and re-enact the Copyright Act 2022. The bill is a consolidation of two similar bills on the subject, SB 688 and SB 769, sponsored by Senator Mukhail A. Abiru (APC: Lagos) and Senator Yahaya Abubakar Abdullahi (APC: Kebbi), respectively. The Senate had referred the bills to the Joint Committee on Trade and Investment; and Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters in the latter part of 2021 for further legislative action. The Joint Committee, in its report presented at plenary on the day the consolidated version of the bills was passed, stated that the bills sought to provide a holistic review of the policy and legal framework for the regulation, administration and protection of copyright in Nigeria.

The Copyright repeal and re-enactment bill aims to effectively protect the rights of authors to ensure just rewards and recognition for their intellectual efforts; provide appropriate limitations and exceptions to guarantee access to creative works; facilitate Nigeria’s compliance with international copyright treaties and enhance the capacity of the Nigerian Copyright Commission for effective administration and enforcement of its provisions.

Among some of its new provisions, the bill extends the nature of copyright to include making a work that is subject to copyright available to the public by wire or wireless means, in such a way that it is accessible to members of the public from a place and at a time independently chosen by them. It further provides for remuneration for the broadcasting of sound recordings and audiovisual work, to owners of such work.

The provisions of the re-enactment bill reflect Nigeria’s obligations to four copyright treaties, of which it is signatory. These include the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Copyright Treaty, the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty and the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise, Print Disabled.

The proposed law also broadens the powers of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, to enable effective delivery of its mandate. The additional powers are focused on ensuring enforcement and compliance of persons and entities with the provisions of the bill. The bill also establishes a fund for the Commission, to be financed by government statutory allocation and other sources, to be applied towards the promotion of its objectives.

The bill makes copyright infringement actionable in both civil and criminal proceedings. Civil action can result in reliefs such as reimbursement of profits or award of damages or both. On the other hand, the bill defines a variety of copyright offences and stipulates penalties of fines ranging from N10,000 (for each unauthorised copy of a work with copyrights) to N5,000,000 and imprisonment terms ranging from one to five years or a combination of a fine and an imprisonment term. These provisions increase the penalties for copyright offences, which are as low as a fine of N100 and imprisonment terms of six months in the current law. The aim of stiffer penalties is to deter copyright offences.

It has become expedient to review the extant Copyright Act to strengthen the copyright regime in Nigeria to enhance the competitiveness of its creative industry. This is in the light of the fast-growing and thriving creative industry in Nigeria, characterised by emerging digital technologies, and the need to protect the intellectual property rights of creative experts and effectively tackle copyright issues such as high rate of piracy and other abuses, low criminal sanctions, inadequate pre-emptive legislative provisions, among others. The Copyright Act was enacted in 1988 and amended in 1992 and 1999. However, attempts to amend the law since 1999 have not yielded results. If assented to, the Copyright repeal and re-enactment bill may provide the much-needed comprehensive framework for copyright and intellectual property in Nigeria.