As internet revolution becomes real and grows exponentially in Nigeria, how can originators of creative pieces ensure that their rights are not violated? Stakeholders ruminate on bottlenecks and solutions.
Presently, world Internet users would have exceeded 2.8 billion, going by a survey made available by a world’s leading Internet data bank, www.internetworldstat.com. This is expected to engender a digital revolution the world may not have witnessed or anticipated. While the technology companies are getting set for this eventuality with gizmos that avail data in real time and on the move, it becomes pertinent that the real owners of the data (content in this context) evolve ways of protecting the works they have put on the Internet.
Bulk of these content providers, who range from book authors, to musicians to film producers, visual artists and photographers, according to stakeholders will face a very stiff challenge in this regards, as the new frontiers begin this exponential outburst. A book publisher, Ben Osagie, of Heritage Books told Arts Lounge that the new dawn will offer a lot of advantages for book authors and publishers, because the platform for distribution would have limitless borders, but that the industry should also brace for intellectual rights violations that would come with it. “While the platform for distribution will be limitless the new challenge would definitely be how to protect the rights of the content owners. I foresee e-books leaving this paper format behind and assuming the digital format, which would be downloaded as e-books or e-magazines. Perhaps as we move on, the platform for collection of royalties due to the author would improve, but what would happen in the event that someone pays to download the material and uses it for things other than what the materials were initially authorized for?” The music industry is not left alone in this impending fear. As CDs are fast giving way to downloadable music, the industry would also be confronted with the challenge of fashioning a fool-proof way of protecting their works in the face of this emerging music market driven by the Internet. T
his concern has left stakeholders in the music industry with no option but to fashion ways of staying afloat as this new storm begins. Obviously, Nigerian artistes need Intellectual Property experts now more than before. According an Intellectual Property lawyer, Edwin Umeajah, every artiste who wants to go into any dealings should first consult intellectual property lawyers who would explain the limits of his rights within the framework of the agreement he is entering into with any portal. This is necessary, considering the loose nature of the internet. “It is neither here nor there for now. Enabling laws to enforce that are yet to be firmly rooted in the country, owing to some issues. When it takes a trans-continental posture, it becomes more difficult to enforce even. In Nigeria the case between Ayo Bankole a musician and the Ecobank is one of the most popular in this regard.
The musician’s composition was used for the phone answering service of the bank, and he threatened to go to court, making the bank to go into agreement with him on the limits of their usage about his works. Every artiste in this age needs to cultivate the culture of getting lawyers to draft his agreement when he wants to enter into any dealings. For book authors, the same thing applies, because the digital age makes their works more accessible to readers many readers in far-flung vicinities”. But the various collecting societies, still advise content owners in the digital age that the best option is to enlist with a collecting society, which would do all negotiations on their behalf. In Nigeria, the Copyright Society of Nigeria, COSON, which has been championing the cause of the rights of most musical artistries told Arts Lounge that while the issue of copyrights infringement cannot be completely eliminated, artistes or content providers can do themselves a lot more good by finding a way of enlisting with only the authorised collecting society existing in the country. “Yes, it is true that we are living in a world that is becoming borderless, as a result of technology, which leaves so much burden in the area of protecting one’s rights, I have to note here that achieving a fool-proof way of protecting the rights of artiste is not absolute, but the artiste can do himself so much good by registering with a collecting society. Once the authorised society has the mandate of the artiste, bulk of the violations would be minimised especially at the corporate or commercial levels”, says Tony Okoroji, the chief executive officer of COSON. The African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation, ARIPO, working to protect the rights of African artistes also believes that enlistment in copyright protection society remains a veritable tool in the quest to protect one’s rights now. While it has been established that it may be difficult erasing infringements on rights in the digital age, what options are there left for artistes whose contents have been violated? Mike Umeajah, Intellectual Property lawyer says the best option remain seeking redress in court. “Like I said before when it is established, the artiste should seek redress in court, because it is only a court of law that has the power to enforce it. Copyright infringement cases in Nigeria usually do not go beyond the appeal court, which goes to show the kind of seriousness they attach to it. Once it is decided at that level, the victim gets full compensation”.
However, Jochen Schaefer, a German lawyer with the World Federation of the Sporting Goods and Industry, WFSGI, offers a new vista in an edition of the World Intellectual Property Organisation WIPO, bulletin. According to him, ‘Trademark law, like other areas of intellectual property (IP) law, is governed by principles of territoriality. In the online environment, however, where it is relatively easy to maintain an anonymous identity, using “offshore” Internet service providers (ISPs) or servers, for example, infringers can dodge legal action initiated by courts or administrative bodies in the countries in which they have a virtual presence and in which they generate profits. The difficulties associated with successfully pursuing online IP infringers using a conventional legal approach are further compounded by a lack of uniformity in the legal landscape. While there is a degree of harmonisation of the laws and regulations governing IP rights and their enforcement, these are not unified.
Varying laws and practices in different jurisdictions make it difficult to navigate the legal landscape, fuelling legal uncertainty about outcomes. Against this backdrop, some commentators have cast the law as a lame duck limping behind dynamic new commercial and technological developments in the real world. Claiming damages from infringers in the borderless digital environment can prove extremely difficult. While the courts and competent administrative authorities play a key role in stopping illegal use of brands online, the importance for right holders to secure the underlying facts and accompanying evidence cannot be overstated. If a company is to win its day in court, it is critical that emphasis be placed on gathering this information prior to and during litigation and particularly for interim relief proceedings.” With enabling laws in this regard still loosely enforced in Nigeria, this ought to constitute a new focal point for stakeholders in the art industry, if the ‘art must pay’.