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At hearing, creators seek favourable intellectual property bill

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
24 October 2021   |   4:01 am
The creative industries, whether publishing, entertainment, film, music, art, technology, broadcasting and software development sectors, rely on copyright in order to facilitate dealings in their works...

The Director-General, Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), Mr John Asein PHOTO: Twitter

The creative industries, whether publishing, entertainment, film, music, art, technology, broadcasting and software development sectors, rely on copyright in order to facilitate dealings in their works, whether by their audiences, their customers or even other creative industries. The industry, however, faces same copyright challenge.

Recently, at the public hearing on two proposed bills for an Act to repeal the Copyright Act Cap C28 LFN 2004 and to re-enact the Copyright Act 2021 and for matters connected therewith, 2021 (SB.688) and the Executive Bill SB. 769 to replace the copyright law currently in operation by the Senate Committee on Trade and Investment jointly chaired by Senators Francis Fadahunsi and Opeyemi Bamidele, creatives, for once, were united in their demand for the Copyright bills currently being considered by the National Assembly to work for creators of intellectual properties and not for the users and exploiters of their creativity.

Held on October 12, 2021, the hearing opened with an assurance by the committee to pass a law that serves the interest of creators of intellectual properties, and thereafter, the committee asked stakeholders to make their input.

The Senate President, represented by Senator Abdulahi Sabi, the Deputy Chief Whip, said it was the intention of the Ninth Senate to bequeath a copyright law that will stand the test of time and improve the lot of the creators of intellectual property.

The Senate President said that the public hearing offers opportunity to investigate why the old law was not working well or at all.

He also stated that the bill has a crucial role to play, and therefore, the tradition is to seek the input of all stakeholders.

The hearing, the Senate President further revealed, was to encourage private investment in the sector and to help the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) perform its regulatory and enforcement duties as the copyright law seeks to protect creators.

“It is sad to see people who have produced great films, music and books suffering in their old age and begging for support. It is this situation that the new law intends to prevent,” Sabi said.

He, therefore, called on stakeholders to help the National Assembly to come up with a perfect bill.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Trade and Investment and Joint-Chairman of the joint Senate Committees Trade and Investment and Human Rights, Judiciary and Legal Matters, Senator Fadahunsi, who kick-started the moderation of proceedings at the Public Hearing, explained the need for the public hearing.

He said the joint-committee was set up to collate views of all stakeholders for a better Copyright Law, collaboration between the Senate and House of Representatives on the bill, the invitation of all views even after the public hearing within a reasonable time.

He called on Senator Tokunbo Abiru, sponsor of the private member bill, to tell the audience what informed the need for a new copyright law.

The Senator representing Lagos East commended the caliber of stakeholders in attendance. He explained the bill seeks to repeal the Copyright Act and replace it with 2021 Act because Copyright Act is key to the creative economy. The new bill is also meant to take care of issues arising from the digital worldwide revolution within the music and the film industries.

Senator Abiru revealed that many creators have suffered because of a weak Copyright Act.

“My motivation for the act is to promote national prosperity through effective protection of authors, encourage cultural exchange, align the law with international laws and also consider the digitisation of the operating environment.”

The Director General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, John Asein, in his explanatory commentary on the Executive Bill said that the introduction of the executive bill is to cure the defects in the Copyright Act of 2004 and that it was the product of collaboration between the Commission and the Federal Ministry of Justice.

“The executive bill is built on the contribution of stakeholders, so, NCC will not take credit for it. It is a collective effort since 2018. It is to upgrade the copyright system with the mandate to protect creative works, reflect the best interest of Nigeria and mandate enforcement. It is also to restructure the schedules to ensure easy understanding. It is a bill that creators will be happy to work with.”

Being one of the stakeholders to submit a memorandum, the Musical Copyright Society Nigeria Ltd/Gte (MCSN), represented by its Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Mayo Ayilaran, was called upon to share his views with the committee.

He stated that nothing much was wrong with the present Copyright Act, citing the experience of MCSN with the Act, that it took MCSN several years to get certain provisions of the Act to be appropriately interpreted by the Supreme Court while the Court of Appeal has also given interpretation and judgment on infringements and award of damages.

He observed that certain sections of the two bills seek to take away the rights of creators, which were granted in the Bills. He specifically criticised sections 54 to 62 of the executive bill and 29 to 37 of the private member’s bill which shield persons considered as passive infringers from liabilities arising from infringements which have already taken place.

He said that the sections are alien to the Bills and the intention to protect works from unauthorised exploitation and should therefore be completely expunged.

He also raised an observation that the section that reserves the appointment of only ‘legal practitioners’ as the Director General of the NCC is unacceptable, as the provision portends denying the copyright sector of the best brain and expertise from being appointed to lead or man the sector.

The Performing Musicians’ Employers’ Association of Nigeria (PMAN) represented by its National President, Pretty Okafor, in his contribution shredded sections 29 to 37 of the Private Member’s Bill and Sections 54 to 62 of the Executive Bill to pieces claiming that sections 29 to 37 of the private member’s bill and 51 to 62 of the executive bill which are almost the same in wordings does not protect creators but the Digital Service Providers (DSPs) and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

The chairman of Audio-Visual Rights Society (AVRS), Mahmood Ali-Balogun, in his contribution advocated for the establishment of Copyright Tribunal to handle infringement cases and other issues arising from copyright disagreements rather than going through the normal courts.