Anybody Feel Like Starting a Collecting Society?

12 November 2008

Nigeria is desperately in need of one.

What is a Collecting Society?

For those who are unfamiliar, a collecting society is an intermediary between the user of a work and the owner of the copyright in the work.  An artist's work can be used by millions of people any where in the world at any time.  Logistically, it's impossible for one artist to monitor all the possible places where the work might be used.  The collecting society pools the resources of many artists and does this monitoring for the artists collectively.  There are many different types of collecting societies, such as performing rights organizations and reproduction rights organizations.state of collecting societies in Nigeria

The Situation in Nigeria

There are currently no collecting societies in Nigeria.  This has been the situation for the past three years.  Grab some popcorn, and enjoy a little drama-filled story.

One, Two, None - the Background

Once upon a time Nigeria was a British colony.  The British Performing Right Society (PRS) represented the colony's musical artists.  Sometime after gaining independence, Nigeria decided it didn't want any foreign owned companies operating inside it's borders.  So the Nigerian section of PRS became MCSN, Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria.  And everything was fine.... Or so it seemed.

The Nigerian government was concerned that the lone collecting society was taking advantage of the artists, taking too much of the royalties for itself and not accounting completely for what it had collected.  The government decided to do something about this and issued the 1992 Copyright (Amendment) Decree.  (Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 Cap. 28 Sec. 39.)  This decree authorized the Nigerian Copyright Commission to set up regulations for collecting societies and required collecting societies to register with the Nigerian Copyright Commission.  The Commission's regulations went into effect in 1993.  (Copyright (Collecting Society) Regulations, 1993.)

MCSN applied for approval but was denied.  The Commission said that MCSN was being sneaky, not disclosing enough information about the royalties it was collecting for its artists.  Like the Itsy-Bitsy Spider continually going up the water spout, MCSN kept renewing their application, but down came the Commission and denied it every time.

The Commission did recognize the importance of collecting societies, so, in 1994, it helped form a new organization, PMRS, Performing and Mechanical Rights Society of Nigeria.  This made MCSN really angry.  Some people thought there should only be one collecting society in the country, and MCSN was there first.  MCSN kept trying for approval, and the Commission finally granted the approval in 2005.  Within six months the President of Nigeria revoked the approval and removed the Director General of the Commission.  The Director General's law firm had represented MCSN in the past and the President felt there had been a conflict of interest.

Somewhere in all of this PMRS and MCSN discussed merging.  The merger talks fell apart, and during this time PMRS's registration lapsed.  And then there were none.

How the Situation Sits Today

Both MCSN and PMRS claim to be proper collecting societies in Nigeria (as can be seen from their websites.)  Both are currently suing the Nigerian Copyright Commission.  Neither can collect royalties for their supposed clients.  Artist are not getting paid, and they're losing out on other opportunities.

International companies, such as MTV, don't know who to pay, so they don't pay anyone.  Nigerian superstar D'banj recently explained to the House Committee on Information & National Orientation that he and several other Nigerian music stars have well over $30,000 each sitting in a bank account in South Africa.  In MTV's bank account.  MTV doesn't know who to pay, so it's holding the money until it knows who to pay.  It's nice that MTV isn't spending the money, but the artists would really like to get it sooner than later.  In the meantime, the artists don't get paid.

Whenever MCSN or PMRS attempt to bring a lawsuit on behalf of one of their artists for infringing performances, the court throws the suit out citing a lack of standing by the plaintiffs.  Restaurants, hotels, bars, clubs and even radio stations know they can't be sued for playing music without paying royalties.  They play whatever they want, whenever they want.  (On the upside for listeners, this produces a lot of really neat remixes, recently featuring a number of Obama's speeches mixed-in.)  The artists don't get paid.

D'banj has also highlighted another way in which the lack of collecting societies is hurting artists.  Nigerian artists are losing opportunities to reach world-class stardom (and at least get royalties from other countries).  International superstars (including R.Kelly and Snoop Dogg) have approached Nigerian artists about doing collaborations.  These types of collaborations could turn Nigerian artists like D'banj or 2Face into the next Akon, a household name around the world.  But the deals fall through.  Why?  As D'banj put it, the artists ask a simple question for which there is no answer, "How do we get our royalty?"

The Questions

Now, being a lowly little intern with no collecting society experience, this sad soap has left this Ipper with some questions.  Perhaps some fellow IP enthusiasts can shed some light on the subject.

Why can't the artists just collect the money MTV owes them by themselves?  Does it have something to do with agreements they may have signed with MCSN or PMRS?  Is MTV somehow prevented from working directly with artists?

Is there any reason interested people with the available capital couldn't come in and start a new collecting society in Nigeria?  One that complied with the provisions of the Copyright Act (Sec. 32B in this version) and the Collecting Society Regulations?  Would the government allow it?  And if it is possible, where can we find these interested people with available capital?  The artists are suffering.

And lastly, can the international superstars stop worrying about getting their own money from Nigeria and collaborate with these amazing Nigerian artists anyway?  Please!



Image credits: map outline from; D'banj photo courtesy of goldenrail; 200 Naira notes courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica; 5, 20, 50, 100 and 1000 Naira notes courtesy of Statni vlajky sveta; diagonal bills courtesy of Hit Naira; all images (minus D'banj photo) found using Creative Commons, but I couldn't always find information regarding the license for the images.


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