The Intellectual Property Law Association of Nigeria (IPLAN) has urged stakeholders in the industry to support efforts aimed at reforming Nigeria’s intellectual property laws.
Rising from its pre-AGM Workshop held last week in Lagos on the heels of the World Book and Copyright Day celebrated on April 23 of every year, the policy and advocacy group noted that the key legislations that deal with protection of intellectual property were in dire need of urgent and drastic reform, urging the National Assembly to gear up for the task ahead. The laws include the Copyright Act, Cap. C28, LFN 2004; Trademarks Act Cap. T13, LFN 2004 and Patents and Designs Act, Cap. P2, LFN 2004.
Pioneer Chairman of the Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC), Professor Egerton Uvieghara while commending IPLAN for its advocacy work in the area of law reform, noted that Nigeria was losing huge revenue due to its outdated intellectual property laws. Laying the blame on the doorsteps of the National Assembly, the renowned author and former Commissioner at the Nigeria Law Reform Commission said: “We have been repeating ourselves over the years but nothing seems to have been done. The National Assembly members are over-pampered. Nigeria is losing a lot of money just because we have minions in the National Assembly. They are collecting more than they are giving us.”
Uvieghara who was Chairman of the committee that drafted the Copyright Act also noted that the Copyright Act curbed the exploitation of artistes by recording companies, but warned that developments over the years have made a review a matter of national emergency.
On his part, the Director-General of NCC, Mr. Afam Ezekude stated that the commission made 256 raids leading to removal of pirated materials worth over N8 billion. It also secured 54 criminal convictions including prison sentences to serve as a deterrent to others, while 172 trials are ongoing at the Federal High Court. The commission has also moved from manual to electronic registration of copyright materials, even as it continues to support collecting societies to enable rights owners and content providers reap the fruits of their labour.
Ezekude noted that the NCC has launched a reform of the copyright system to strengthen the bundle of rights available to copyright owners, adding that a draft Copyright Bill has been forwarded to the Office of the Attorney-General for review and presentation to the National Assembly.
Emeritus President of IPLAN, Prof. Bankole Sodipo observed that there are no pending intellectual property bills at the National Assembly but noted that there are ongoing efforts by the regulatory authorities to redress this.
He emphasized the pressing need to “get all the stakeholders involved” in the reform process, warning that “At the rate we are going, laws may not be able to catch up with technological developments.” He advised that IPLAN members “can do a draft bill and present to members of the National Assembly,” adding that increased advocacy is required to jumpstart the industry.
Speaking earlier, Barrister Chinyere Okorocha, a veteran intellectual property practitioner who represented the Registrar of Trademarks, warned that unless all stakeholders form a common front to drive law reform in the industry, it may remain a mirage. She observed that though the draft Industrial Property Bill contains new areas such as the registration of smell and sound marks as against the prevailing registration of only names, numbers, slogans and service marks, it remains to be seen whether the requisite infrastructure and personnel to enforce the impending regime would be available.
She noted that though the Trademarks Registry has made giant strides by transmuting from manual to electronic filing, some “basic” functionalities like electronic searches are still non-existent, thereby posing huge question marks on the registry’s ability to take on more daunting roles as set out in the draft bill.
Noting that “we have waited so long for the new Act,” Okorocha lauded the criminal sanctions for infringement as contained in the draft bill, while warning that lawyers and other stakeholders must not leave the advocacy for passage of the draft bill to the Trademarks Registry.
Former Director-General of the Nigeria Copyright Institute, Mr. John Asein observed that the Copyright Act “predates and did not fully anticipate the digital environment with its vibrant and huge potentials for copyright,” adding that since the last amendment of the Copyright Act in 1999, “there have been radical changes in the copyright industry.” Asein further stated that the Copyright Act does not address the provisions of the WCT, WPPT, the new Beijing Treaty, the Marrakesh Treaty, noting that “it is doubtful if it adequately covers all the requirements and flexibilities of the Berne Convention or the TRIPS Agreement.”
In a damning verdict on the role of the courts, Asein observed that “The courts have not shown convincing capacity to creatively use the present Copyright Act to address emerging challenges,” adding that there is a “general consensus” that the copyright system – and indeed the entire intellectual property system – as well as the Copyright Act are in dire need of reform.