Some Reflections on Copyright in Nigeria

21 December 2008

Having just returned home from a short internship with the Nigerian Copyright Commission, a few reflections on the state of copyright in Nigeria seem appropriate.

Nigeria's statutory copyright law is fairly well developed.  This is hardly surprising since Nigeria is a member of several of the major treaties.  (Berne convention, 1993; TRIPS (WTO), 1995.)  Generally, the gaps that do exist in Nigeria's copyright laws are in areas that the rest of the world is also trying to sort out, such as computers and new technology's implications on copyright.  These gaps tend to arise less from poorly drafted or inadequate statutes, but rather from the stark absence of case law, especially case law that interprets the Copyright Act to apply to new issues.

Yet, as we've seen, copyright law in Nigeria isn't exactly "working" right now.  (Collecting society issues, problems with pirates, copyright and trade issues.)  The biggest problem is a lack of enforcement of the existing law.  This problem seems to stem from several other issues, most of which are outside the legal system, or at least outside copyright law.

Nigeria is rife with corruption.  People not only do not trust the government, they do not trust each other.  This hinders legitimate enforcement operations by the government, discourages people from bringing civil suits and severely limits entrepreneurial opportunities for private businesses.  But corruption is a national problem, supposedly being addressed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, not something for which the Copyright Commission can take responsibility (at least not outside of its own organization).

Nigeria also has little legitimate infrastructure relating to the arts.  If Nigeria were to remove all the pirated movies, books and CDs from her streets, there would be almost nothing left for consumers to buy.  Consumers who want to purchase legitimate goods often cannot find them.  There is no advertising about new releases or where to purchase them, and no set stores or locations dedicated to selling legitimate copyrighted materials. The Copyright Commission cannot (and should not) be responsible for the production and distribution of goods.  This is an area for investors and developers.  Unfortunately, no one is stepping forward to organize the needed systems, at least not legitimate versions.  There are a lot of optical disc production plants, but most of them produce pirated goods.  The Copyright Commission has a program that allows illegitimate optical disc plants to become legitimate, but there is little information on how well the program is working.

Another issue playing into the lack of enforcement is only partly beyond the reach of the Copyright Commission.  Nigerians seem to have what the Director General of the Copyright Commission referred to as a developing country mentality.  People expect the government to do things for them.  The copyright law was made by the government, the government should enforce it.  This mentality is a huge part of why there are so few civil infringement suits.  Authors often contact the Copyright Commission to report infringement.  The Commission offers to help them organize a case and may offer investigative help, but the authors want the Commission to do everything, bring a case itself and stop the infringer from committing infringement.  The Commission is trying to educate authors about the need to take responsibility for their personal rights, but fighting the overall rely-on-the-government mentality is a job bigger than one single government commission.

In essence, Nigeria has a lot of background issues to address before their existing copyright laws can become truly effective.  But, the country is working towards this, and more people who care about issues are starting to come forward to do something.  It may take awhile, and a lot of work, but Nigeria can become a place where creativity is nurtured rather than stolen.


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