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COSON suspension: MPAN counts losses, seeks urgent action by NCC

By Chuks Nwanne, Asst. Editor Entertainment & Lifestyle
17 August 2018   |   3:06 am
The Music Publishers Association of Nigeria (MPAN) has urged the Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC) to save the music industry from collapse by lifting the suspension that stopped the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) from operating as a Collective Management Organisation (CMO) for musical works in Nigeria. Though, COSON’s legal team, headed by Uche Val Obi…

Director- General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission(NCC), Mr Afam Ezekude

The Music Publishers Association of Nigeria (MPAN) has urged the Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC) to save the music industry from collapse by lifting the suspension that stopped the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) from operating as a Collective Management Organisation (CMO) for musical works in Nigeria.

Though, COSON’s legal team, headed by Uche Val Obi (SAN), is challenging NCC’s ruling at the Court of Appeal, the implication is that current users of music works within the suspension period are not paying licence fees, thereby, leading to a huge loss of revenue to artistes, right owners and the music industry in general.

In a chat with The Guardian, the Chairman of MPAN Board Olumide Mustapha, pleaded with the Commission to find other better ways of resolving the crisis, as against taking actions that are capable of jeopardising the growth and development of the music industry.

Mustahpa, a UK-trained legal practitioners and representative of Greenlight Music publishing Limited, disclosed that the suspension of COSON’s operating licence has place a huge burden on right owners, who now struggle to make returns on their investments.

“We, as a body, are the ones directly affected. But it’s not just us alone, the music label side is affected as well because, COSON administers and collects royalties for the composers and music publishers, as well as artistes and labels.

So, by COSON licence being suspended, it directly affects us the right holders.

What it means is that they can’t collect money while they are suspended. And not being able to collect means it would affect the amount of money they have to distribute during the distribution period for the relevant year,” he explained.

Mustapha noted that though the organisation appreciates efforts of the Commission, which i in the best interest of the system at heart, suspending COSON from collecting royalties for artistes and right owners will only worsen the situation.

“We believe that despite their good intention, this is actually going to have a much more negative effect.

There are other possibilities, which would involve the commission sanctioning relevant officers within a CMO, if the CMO hasn’t carried out directives or followed the law of the regulation, which at least, allows the CMO to continue operation.

So, I think that’s where we can find a mid path that can help the NCC achieve its objectives without causing serious hindrance to the whole copyright ecosystem,” he said.

While urging NCC to lift the ban, which has lasted for about three months, MPAN chair clearly stated that the organisation is not interested in who is approved to collect royalties, as far as due process and professionalism would be deployed.

He, however, commended COSON for its efforts in getting Nigerian music users to pay for licencing.

“MPAN is not partisan in this issues; we are fundamentally concerned about the Nigerian copyright ecosystem.

So, our issue is not whether we prefer MCSN or COSON to collect; whichever CMO is the most efficient, can collect the most revenue at the best rate and distribute transparently, is the best one we go for.

From our perspective, we’ve watched COSON grow over the last eight to 10 years.

The initial fight by COSON was to convince all music users that they have to pay.

At the beginning, they didn’t think they had to pay and that was the initial fight,” he noted.

Having won the first battle by getting music users to pay, the next target for COSON was to ensure that payments are commensurate with importance of music to the users, a process that would have seen an increase in rates being paid.

Unfortunately, the suspension of COSON by NCC has put a temporary setback to that dream.

“It has taken us back,” Mustapha noted, adding, “now, users are able to say, ‘because of the NCC suspension, we are not paying licensing fees to you COSON; you don’t have the right to collect.’

And since COSON does arguably have the largest repertoire of Nigerian music, which is likely used by all these users, it means that no licences are being paid, unless MCSN can now show that they have right in the same repertoire, which will cause confusion.

“But in a case where MCSN doesn’t have those rights, it means users won’t be paying any licencing fee whatsoever.

So, this is the issue that I think, even if they have been considered, were not deepl enough and really should become part of the formal thinking of the NCC and hopefully should shape their decision making going forward,” he said.

Though there’s indication that NCC is currently deliberating on the issue based on all the inputs they’ve received from stakeholders, MPAN is hoping that decisions would be taken in line with MPAN’s suggestions to the regulator.

“As it currently stands, assuming COSON hasn’t complied with the directive since the suspension, the regulations state that 30 days from the issuing of any such directive, non-compliance means that the NCC has the power to revoke completely.

So, we are at a very delicate impasse and it’s a very sensitive situation; it’s important these issues are thrashed out.”

He continued: “It will be hard for us to quantify the losses by specific organisations, but we can look at it this way: I attended the most recent AGM of COSON at the Sheraton Lagos Hotel.

Being a member, I was privy to receive the financial statement for the year.

So, if we use the amount COSON has collected, which is very small amount compared to its counterparts across the world, but compared to previous years, it’s a huge jump. As of last year, according to COSON statement, they collected just under half a billion-naira in revenue.

And that’s from previous years that it was 20, 40, N100 million, now we are near N500 million.

I’m sure that if it continues to grow in that way, within the next five years, we will be nearing N1 billion collection per year; that’s just from what COSON collects, which is for public performance and broadcast rights.

So, from just that specific revenue stream alone, the copyright ecosystem is loosing half a billion naira just from the last year’s collection alone; it will probably be more next year,” he laments.

Also speaking, the Secretary of MPAN Isioma Idigbe noted that right owners in this Nigeria are suffering a great deal of harm as a result of the current suspension of COSON licence, urging NCC to save the situation by lifting the ban.

Idigbe, a legal practitioner, who represents Universal Music Nigeria, observed that, though the suspension was well intended, the outcome has clearly shown that the entire music industry is at risk if the suspension continues.

“There had been ongoing issues in COSON concerning transparency, which happens with organisations; NCC is the regulator as regards copyright act and does have the right to intervene on these issues.

But our position is that, while their intervention is completely correct and well within their powers, the current action, which led to the suspension of COSON licence to collect royalties on our behalf, is not one that in practice is really benefiting the right owners.

COSON with all its problems is still the most effective and efficient body that we have now to collect public performance royalties on behalf of musical works right owners.”

She continued: “By suspending COSON, you essentially put the industry in a situation whereby there’s no one to collect these royalties and music is being used without us the right owners being able to make a living from the works of our hand. So, this is a really bad situation we are in.”

Already, MPAN as a group had written to NCC, stating the challenges of the suspension to the music right owners, proffering other possible ways of resolving the crisis without shutting down the entire copyright ecosystem.

“We understand that this intervention is intended to be to our benefit to ensure structure in the industry; we are all for that.

But we believe that there are other types of intervention that can be made that will not have the effect on right owners that this is currently having.”

She observed that the entertainment industry in general suffers from a fundamental issue of lack of structures that uphold the economy for these industries, adding, “A situation whereby we don’t have a collective society that is efficient breaks down that structure.

We assume that what NCC wants to do is preserve that structure so that it continues to be an economically viable industry for the country and industry stakeholders.

So, anything that would jeopardise that structure is not necessarily in our opinion the best form of intervention.

We are appealing to NCC to consider our views. At the end of the day, we are the ones they are intending to protect.”

Using the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) as case in point, Idigbe said, “With Stock Exchange and AMCON, they are able to intervene in the interest of the stakeholders; they appoint a chairman to manage that company and recover it if there’s any crisis.

We believe that something similar can be done as opposed to shutting down the entire process and structure.

We are also open to dialoging with the NCC on theses issues; we’ve reached out and we hope that they would reach back to us and let this be a dialogue,” she said.

To the legal practitioner, regulation has gone beyond sectioning offenders; it’s about collaborating in the interest of practitioners, stakeholders and the country in general.

“It’s no longer a situation of the regulator being the big man at the top looking down at the people they seek to regulate; regulation is now collaboration between the stakeholders and the regulator to make sure that you are creating an enabling environment.

The industry itself needs to really sit up and take the issues of regulation, frameworks and structure very serious and sort of start that process internally and work with the government to make that happen,” she concluded.

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