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‘Property theft thrives in absence of deterrents’

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Babatunde Ibidapo-Obe

There are laws against intellectual property theft but most creative artists do not know about the existence of those laws. As a result of this lack of knowledge, victims of intellectual property theft cannot apply and enforce their rights. Lagos lawyer, Babatunde Ibidapo-Obe in this interview with Assistant Judiciary Editor, JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, says intellectual property theft is still a big challenge in Nigeria. This, he said created the need to bridge the knowledge gap through online platform known as lawpadi.com. He also spoke on National Industrial Court and the evolving trends in Telecommunications, Media and Technology (TMT) laws.

Decisions of the National Industrial Court (NIC) are not supposed to be appealed, but it seems there is an exception to this rule. Can you educate us more on this?
Prior to the Supreme Court decision in Skye Bank v Victor Iwu, there was general confusion as to the legal position regarding appeals from the National Industrial Court (NIC). Differing opinions existed as to whether the NIC was a final court and decisions could only be appealed in issues of fundamental rights; or whether its decisions could be appealed to the Court of Appeal, as is the case with other superior courts of record like the State High Courts and the Federal High Court. The decision of the Supreme Court in Skye Bank v Victor Iwu given in July 2017, put this debate to rest as a 5-man panel of the court held that the Court of Appeal had exclusive appellate jurisdiction over all decisions of the NIC, and that the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal to hear and determine all civil appeals on decisions of the NIC was not limited to only fundamental human rights.

New areas of law are evolving in Telecommunication, Media and Technology (TMT) market. How can lawyers tap into this new areas and leverage on its prospects?
The practice of law is changing just as the world around us is changing, the issues we were being taught when I was in law school 10 years ago, are different from the issues that exist today. Innovations in TMT mean that lawyers need to be constantly updating their knowledge and keeping up with developments or risk being left behind. For instance, there are a number of developments in Intellectual Property (IP) as it relates to TMT – platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook throw up legal conundrums which were not (and could not have been) anticipated by our IP laws e.g. copyright infringement, online defamation etc.; what lawyers who want to leverage on these developments need to do is to spend time understanding how these new technologies work and then applying the principles to the issues which arise in these new platforms. Interesting areas where lawyers need to begin to consider are things like cryptocurrency, blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, crowdfunding, digital rights etc, apart from arming themselves properly to deal with innovative issues that arise in this new day and age. Lawyers need to also take advantage of new tools which development in technology have brought about to work more effectively – lawyers now have access to tools that help make contract drafting and review quicker using artificial intelligence; tools that speed up research time by using electronic law reports, and there are even tools in other jurisdictions which attempt to use data to predict outcomes of court cases using predictive analytics. Lawyers need to embrace these tools – find out what works for them and then adopt their use into their everyday activities, because ultimately in this day and age, a lawyer with all the knowledge but inefficient tools is like a boxer fighting with one hand tied behind his back.

What do you think account for the high rate of intellectual property (IP) theft in Nigeria?
People always say that IP theft is so rampant in Nigeria because we have inadequate laws, but I disagree with that assertion. Our laws, imperfect as they may be, do exist. The issue is that people either do not know about them or they do not believe in the system. For the first problem, that is why our platform www.lawpadi.com was set up, to educate individuals about their rights and the laws that protect them. A Nigerian who feels that her IP rights may have been infringed on but is not sure, can easily go on our website and find out whether this is actually the case, and then receive information about practical steps which can be taken to enforce those rights. The second problem – people not believing the system will work, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, if Ms A’s IP has allegedly been infringed upon but because she does not believe the system will give her redress, she therefore does not take any step to obtain redress. The net result therefore is that the theft goes unaddressed with no repercussions to the perpetrator. Lack of a deterrent emboldens the perpetrator and others, and they continue to engage in IP theft. It becomes a vicious cycle.

How did you come up with the idea of LawPàdí?
Lawpadi.com was started as an online platform to provide legal information to Nigerians as it concerns their everyday rights and responsibilities. Our goal when we started was to empower Nigerians to be more aware of their legal rights and duties. We understood that when faced with a legal question, many people don’t know where to start, because the law can sometimes be alien to most individuals. Our aim was to bridge this information gap, and help more individuals to be more informed about their legal rights and duties. We are steadily achieving this goal and we are fast becoming the go-to platform for any legal issues in Nigeria – sort of the ‘google for legal issues in Nigeria’.

I came up with the idea because I saw the need for educating Nigerians about their rights, I have always been passionate about social justice, and in fact the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) was someone who I aspired to be like. I come from a family of many lawyers and it was ingrained in me that the law should be used as a tool for social justice. So, one day I was thinking of ways to use my legal skills to help as many people as possible and I realised that creating an online platform would be a great way to reach hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, if not more…and that is what we have done. Lawpadi.com has been accessed by about 500, 000 people since we launched it in July 2015, we are hoping to have helped 1 million Nigerians by 2020, and potentially begin to branch out into other African countries.

What solutions are you intending to provide through that channel?
Since we launched the platform in July 2015 we have constantly evolved and improved how we provide legal information to Nigerians. We initially started with two solutions – our online repository of legal articles discussing different areas of law, and our ‘ask a lawyer service’, which allowed individuals to ask questions and get responses to their legal queries within 24-72 hours. Based on feedback and suggestions, we expanded our solutions and began to introduce more interactive things like infographics, online legal education quizzes etc. In addition to all of that, we have introduced automated fee estimating tools, legal eligibility applications and Africa’s first legal chatbot -ADA (the Automated Divorce Advisor). We are constantly working on improving our services and solutions, and we are hopeful that in the near future as technology tools evolve, we will do so as well and continue to lead the charge for adopting innovative solutions to improve access to justice.

What challenges are you experiencing in building that brand?
The biggest challenge that we have faced since launching the platform is trying to find ways to make the platform self-sufficient. This is a problem we are working tirelessly to try to solve, but in the meantime until we solve this, we are grateful for the support we have received by way of grants from the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Foundation (TEEF) in 2015 and the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HIIL) in 2017.
From a brand building perspective, because we have had limited funds, we have been unable to embark on wide scale awareness sensitisation of our platform and what benefits it can create for the average Nigerian. Therefore, a lot of our growth and success has been largely word of mouth, and from people finding our platform organically – using the platform, and been so impressed with their interaction with us that they then become evangelists for our brand and platform.

To what extent are people identifying with LawPàdí and what it stands for?
The feedback we have received so far has been overwhelming – the vast majority of the people who have used our service have been so impressed with the quality of the legal information we provide, and the care we take in ensuring that we attempt to answer any legal queries they have. We are also very open to constructive criticism, and we have taken on board critical feedback from users to enable us to improve the platform. We are definitely on our way to achieving our goal of being the ‘google for legal issues in Nigeria’.


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