Nigeria: The Similarities In Copyright Law Of The United States Of America And The Federal Republic Of Nigeria

Last Updated: 16 February 2014
Article by Olajide Oyewole LLP

Intellectual Property is a vibrant and fascinating area of Law. It concerns the ideas of property, "The right to possess, use and enjoy a determinate thing." However Intellectual Property law concerns the intangible, and protection that is awarded to them. A key area of Intellectual Property Law is Copyright.

Copyright Law explores the protection awarded to various types of work. The purpose of this article is to very briefly consider the similarities between copyright law in the United States of America and that of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I feel these two countries will draw interesting distinctions, as they both have colonial backgrounds, and have developed into very differing nations albeit one has been independent for far longer.

The United Kingdom's Statute of Anne, governed copyright law in the United States of America from as early as 1790 Anne prevailed even after independence and most states in the United States of America implemented this when dealing with copyright. For example state copyright laws on the formalities of copyright based on the Statute of Anne were implemented.

Post Anne, various other statutes in the United States of America have been used in copyrightable action. Throughout the history of the United States, the Copyright Act has undergone numerous changes. The Act, which was United States Federal Law was implemented in 1909 and broadened the scope of copyright protection. It allowed for copyright to last for a period of 28yearsat which point it could be renewed for another 28 years during the life of the author. Protection however was only awarded if the work had been published and had a notice of copyright.

However, nowadays in the United States, copyright law is predominantly policed through the Copyright Act 1976. This not only extended the duration of copyright to life of the author and 50 years after the author's death, but this Act also removed the formalities of the work having to be registered and requiring a notice. Furthermore, the Act included the provisions for fixation and originality.

Copyright in Nigeria also has had a model of transformation through the ages. Until 1970, copyright was governed in Nigeria by the United Kingdom, through the English Copyright Act of 1911. The application of this act was applicable to Nigeria through an order-in-council, no.912 of 24th June 1912; this was made under section 25 of the act. , The newly free Nigeria began operating its own Copyright Act on December 24th 1970.

This act had a number of problems, for one copyright duration at a mere 25years after the author's death or in terms of recordings or broadcasts, 25 years after they were made, was retrospectively seen to be too short. Furthermore there was no administration process under the Act. Where infringement was concerned, there were also problems as the criminal sanction was minimal, and could not be used along with the civil.

A subsequent Act however came into fruition; this was the 1988 Act as well as amendments in 1992 and 1999. These corrected the mistakes of the 1970 act, not only did it extend the duration, of copyright but it also established the Nigerian Copyright Commission as well as its Governing Board. Furthermore the criminal sanctions where heavier and could be used in conjunction with the civil. The amendments appointed copyright inspectors to police infringement, as the actual police did act lightly against infringers.

Although both countries had similar beginnings in copyright law, as well as some other similarities, there are also many significant differences, and this is shown in originality.

One of the preliminary factors, one must consider when dealing with copyright law, is originality. This is the concept, that in order for a work to be copyrightable, it must be of some unique or novel status pertaining to the creativity of the author.

Originality can be explored in various ways depending on how copyright law is dealt with. This is examined through copyright law in the United States and the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The requirement is not a strict one, and a simple expression of independence will suffice where originality is concerned.

In the United States, the originality requirement is found in statute under section 102(a) of the Copyright Act where it states:

"Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship" This shows that in the United States there is an explicit requirement for originality written in statute.

Furthermore, the requirement is also explored through United States' case law:

The case of Feist Publication v Rural Telephone Ltd, Examines the doctrine of originality in the United States;

The case explores that in United States Copyright law, only a minimal amount of originality is required and there is "no sweat of the brow" that goes to show that sufficient work put into a work does not deem it copyrightable.

In Nigerian Copyright law, like the United States originality is found in statute, to be precise section 1(2) (a) of the Copyright Act where it states:

"Sufficient effort has been expended on making the work to give it an original Character"

Originality is to an extent found in Nigerian Case Law, drawing some similarity with The United States, which also uses case law to determine originality. The following case shows how originality is viewed:

Offrey v Chief S.O. Ola and Ors, this case shows that when it comes to copyright originality in Nigeria, Sweat of the Brow will be rewarded. This directly contrasts with The United States as in Nigeria the standard of originality is based on hard work and skill.

Originality plays a key role in copyright law, both in Nigeria a developing nation, and the United States an already developed nation, it will be interesting to view how such contrasting countries view such a vital part of Intellectual Property Law as a whole and more differences and indeed similarities will be examined in later articles.


1 Black's law dictionary


3 499 U.S. 340(1991)-Intellectual Property In The New Technological Age pg. 394


5 unreported suit No: HOS/23/68 decided 27th June 1969-Intellectual Property: Copyright, Trade Marks, Patents and Industrial Designs pg11

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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