INTRODUCTION On the 3rd of September 2018, it was reported that international sculptor and former student of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Dotun Popoola, had threatened to sue the University to the tune of N200 million for destroying a sculpture of Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, which the Artist made as his final year project in the institution.  According to the reports, the University had removed the head of the art work and placed it on top of a ridge in a newly built museum in honour of the celebrated Nobel laureate. In the words of the Artist: “I appreciate the fact that the institution recognised that the work is outstanding enough to represent the museum that was donated to Soyinka. If it wasn’t good, the institution would have commissioned another artist somewhere to produce a work for them… The intellectual aspect of the work is that the portrait was placed on three books of Soyinka which represent poetry, prose and drama, that gave him his Noble prize. But I went to the university to discover that the books were destroyed, head of the piece removed, and my signature and date of execution cut off… That was why I feel pained to see the work beheaded and placed on the roof. Anytime I travelled to the US and returned with white Americans, I would always take them to the site in the university to show them my work,” In response to his claims for the violation of his rights and the mutilation of his work, a lecturer of the institution was reported to have said that the “student has no right again over his project after he has left the school because he has been given the award, which is the certificate. The project is what he submitted to get the certificate.” While the arguments on this issue may not be as straight forward as “yes” or “no”, it is important to point out that the issue in contention between the Artist and the University is a novel one and intellectual property enthusiasts would hope the parties fail to settle this amicably, in other to give our courts the opportunity to enrich our understanding on this area of law.  In the main however, this article attempts to briefly consider the provisions of the Copyrights Act in Nigeria in light of the issue thrown up by this case. IS THE ARTISTIC WORK ELIGIBLE FOR COPYRIGHT? In Nigeria, the Copyrights Act Cap 28 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 is the principal legislation on copyrights and the Act provides thatartistic works”, including works of sculpture, are eligible for copyright. By Section 1 of the Act such works are eligible if: (a) sufficient effort has been expended on making the work to give it an original character; (b) the work has been fixed in any definite medium of expression from which it can be perceived. Provided however that the work was not intended by the author to be used as a model or pattern to be multiplied by any industrial process. By the above provision of the Act, the work of sculpture by the Artist in the instant case is a work eligible for copyright under the Nigerian copyright law. The pertinent question however is “who has the copyright in the work?” Is it the University or the Artist who produced the work as his project work? WHO IS THE OWNER OF THE COPYRIGHT IN AN ARTISTIC WORK? Section 10 of the Copyright Act specifies the right to first ownership of copyright and clearly states that copyright in an artistic work vests initially in the author. Section 51 of the Act defines “author” in the case of literary, artistic or musical works, to mean the creator of the work. The only exception to the copyright being vested in the creator of an artistic work is where the artist makes the work in the course of his employment by the proprietor of a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical under a contract of service or apprenticeship for the purpose of its publication in a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical (Section 10 (3)). Furthermore, Section 10(2) recognizes that a commissioned artist may by contract sign-off his right to first ownership of the copyright. The above exceptions in section 10(3) do not apply to a work of sculpture since the work cannot be published in such format as described therein. Whether the exception in section 10(2) applies would however depend on what documentations the Artist signed as a student in the course of his project application and submission process and whether those documents signed-off his copyright to the project work. It is also arguable whether a Student who produces work as a school project can even be said to have been “commissioned” to produce the work. WHAT RIGHTS WOULD THE CREATOR OF AN ARTISTIC WORK HAVE? As stated above Section 10 vests copyright in a work eligible for copyright initially in the author. It is noteworthy however that the authorship rights and the copyrights in an artistic work are different rights. While the copyright may be assigned or contracted away from the first copyright owner, the authorship rights cannot be signed or alienated. The author of a work must always be recognised as the author. This is the provision under the clear wordings of section 12(1) of the Copyright Act, which states that a creator of an artistic work as the author of the work has the right to:

  1. to claim authorship of his work, in particular that his authorship be indicated in connection with any of the acts on the work.
  2. to object and to seek relief in connection with any distortion, mutilation or other modification of, and any other derogatory action in relation to his work, where such action would be or is prejudicial to his honour or reputation.
The rights above are perpetual, inalienable and imprescriptible. Thus, they cannot be taken away from the author of a work (See. Section 12(2) of the Act). From the wordings of the above section, it appeals to logic that the right to object to distortion of an artistic work invariably implies that before such distortion the consent of the Artist must be sought in other to avail him of his right to object. Failing to obtain the artist’s consent before mutilation of his work is a ground for seeking relief under section 12. PROJECT WORK IN THE COURSE OF SCHOOLING AND ARTISTIC WORKS. It is the argument in some quarters that where a project work is done in the course of obtaining an educational qualification the school, and not the student, owns the copyright to the work. The usual background of this argument is that most schools require students to sign documents conferring copyrights to such projects in the school and essentially because a work created in the course of educational activities cannot be regarded as an independently created work for the purpose of copyrights. Assuming without conceding that the Artist in this instant case has no copyright in his artistic work, his authorship right remained and could not be alienated. Hence, he always retained the right to be recognised as the author of the work and to be informed of any mutilation to be carried out on the art. Therefore, the mutilation of the sculpture in a manner that the author’s signature was removed and the work became significantly altered, is a clear violation of the right of the artist for which he can take legal action against the school as permitted by Section12 (1) of the Copyrights Act. IN CONCLUSION It is a misconception of the extant copyright laws to believe that a work created by another can be treated in any manner merely because it was made in the course of educational activities. Indeed, such opinion if logically followed would mean that a University can take the project work of any student, remove his name as author of the work, and add the name of another lecturer or individual, or publish same: on the justification that the author no longer owns the rights to the work. While, it may be arguable whether the copyrights in a school project work are retained by the author, there can be no question with regards to the authorship rights since they are inalienable. The actions of the Obafemi Awolowo University, in mutilating the work of the Artiste and particularly breaking away his signature which recognises him as the author of the work, is a flagrant and screaming violation of his authorship rights as guaranteed under the Copyrights Act and it is beyond peradventure that the Artiste has a right to legal action against the institution. OAU as an institution of higher learning ought to have shown better appreciation of the intellectual significance of the work. It is therefore proper that the school seeks amicable settlement with the Artist and gives a fair compensation for their infringement of the work. It is also hoped that this matter helps other academic institutions in the country to better appreciate intellectual work and the rules of copyright in Nigeria. Comment your reserve. Oliver Omoredia,08100193573, Oliveromoredia@yahoo.com]]>

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