1. Introduction

Creativity or innovation extends beyond the frontiers of originality but also embraces the ability to recreate, re-innovate, or reinvent to improve existing concepts, adapt to change, preserve traditions, and upgrade evolving facets of life. This ability of recreation or replication is heavily induced in the music industry, and the Nigerian music space is no exception, as it continues to serve as a wheel for progress within the musical landscape across each generational period. A typical example is the popular Afrobeats 2022 song "Last Last" by Nigerian singer Burna Boy, which samples the American singer Toni Braxton's 2000 single "He Wasn't Man Enough". From paying homage to music predecessors to forging new creative frontiers, sampling, interpolation, and reimagining music encompasses creativity, cultural exchange, and artistic expression.

Classical composers often adapted melodies from their contemporaries or predecessors. But in the modern era, technology has increasingly expanded the possibilities for music sampling and interpolation, enabling artists and producers to manipulate and blend different and distinct sounds effortlessly.

Recreating or sampling original music allows an artist to leverage existing compositions, infusing their unique style and emotions into the music piece. This practice further promotes a culture of innovation within the music industry, birthing new genres of music, enriching the musical catalogs, and resonating with audiences across cultural divides.

However, there are legal limitations to the concept of music sampling and interpolation, which guides the operation and administration of musical compositions and recordings within the legal walls of the music industry to prevent unwarranted and potential lawsuits. These legal limitations are usually built on the foundations of legal consent or authorization, where the original music owner or copyright music holder grants the adequate right to the sampling or interpolation of a musical piece with specific terms and conditions to be fulfilled by the recipient of the sampling or interpolation right.

In many cases, samples and interpolations will infringe a copyright owner's exclusive rights, unless the use is authorized or qualifies for a legal exception or limitation, such as fair dealing. Because samples and interpolations use preexisting sound recordings, not only are those recordings themselves implicated, but the underlying musical works they embody may be implicated as well. Consequently, licenses from copyright owners of both the sound recording and musical work or composition may be necessary.1 This article will provide an introductory perspective of the legal dynamics of music sampling and interpolation within the Nigerian music market.

2. Rise of Sampling and Interpolation in Nigerian Music Industry

While a sample is a snippet of an original song that has been copied and pasted into an entirely new music piece, an interpolation is when a recording is recreated note for note and reflects the underlying composition.2 Sampling involves taking part of an existing sound recording and incorporating it into a new work. For example, a piano line or guitar riff from one recording might be used as a melody in a new recording (instead of re-recording the melody or creating a new melody), or the audio from drums or a piano might be incorporated into a new sound recording as the rhythm or melody of the new work.3 An interpolation involves taking part of an existing musical work, usually the written musical composition or written song/lyrics (as opposed to a sound recording) and incorporating it into a new work. While sometimes confused with sampling a sound recording, interpolating a musical work is different because it does not involve using any of the actual audio sounds contained in a preexisting recording. Instead, new audio is recorded.4 In simpler terms, music sampling involves directly taking and reusing a portion of a sound recording and written musical composition of a song. At the same time, interpolation recreates a song while adopting a preexisting written musical composition without directly copying it.

The emergence of sampling and interpolation has brought about a revolutionary transformation in the Nigerian music business. Nigerian Musicians have created rich musical compositions and sounds by fusing modern beats and melodies with ancient Nigerian and other global music rhythms. Sampling has enabled musicians to pay homage to the rich cultural heritage of Nigeria by incorporating elements of Afrobeat, Highlife, Juju, and other indigenous musical genres into their compositions. "Bank Alert" and "Bizzy Body" by P-Square include a sample from Onyeka Onwenu's"Iyogogo" and Fugees' "Ready or Not," respectively, infusing the songs with a nostalgic touch from a classic Nigerian and American hit. This fusion not only preserves the authenticity of Nigerian and foreign music but also pushes it onto the global stage, captivating audiences worldwide. On the other hand, interpolation has become a vehicle for artists to reinterpret classic Nigerian songs, infusing them with modern twists that resonate with younger and older generations. Omah Lay's "Damn" references and interpolates the melody and vibe of Fela Kuti's "Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am". Nigerian musicians have also adopted foreign song snippets to enable the global reach of their songs to a broader audience. This facilitates their songs' growth and streaming numbers, boosting their royalty revenues and fan base in foreign countries. As sampling and

interpolation continue to grow and expand within the music industry, they prove Nigerian musicians' creative ingenuity and adaptability, promoting a dynamic musical terrain that celebrates tradition while embracing innovation.

3. Legal Guidelines to Obtaining Lawful Music Sampling and Interpolation Authorization

The administration of music sampling and interpolation within the legal walls of the Nigerian music industry is guided by the provisions of the Nigerian Copyright Act 20225 (the Act). The Act provides a framework for protecting the rights of music creators under the musical composition6 and sound recording7 categories while facilitating the lawful use of copyrighted works. The Act recognizes the significance of sampling and interpolation in music creation but emphasizes the need for proper authorization to use copyrighted works. As a copyright holder of a musical work or sound recording, the Act provides that such holder has the exclusive right to do and authorise the doing of any of the following acts:

  1. reproduce the musical work or sound recording;
  2. publish the musical work;
  3. perform the musical work in or communicate the sound recording to the public;
  4. produce, reproduce, perform or publish any translation of the musical work;
  5. make any audio-visual work or a record in respect of the musical work;
  6. distribute to the public for commercial purposes, copies of the sound recording, either by way of rental, lease, hire, loan or similar arrangement;
  7. distribute to the public, for commercial purposes, copies of the musical work or sound recording, through sale or other transfer of ownership provided the musical work or sound recording have not been subject to distribution authorised by the owner;
  8. broadcast the musical work or sound recording;
  9. make the musical work or sound recording available to the public by wire or wireless means in such a way that members of the public are able to access the musical work or sound recording from a place and at a time independently chosen by them; and
  10. make any adaptation of the musical work or sound recording.8

In essence, where an artist or music producer intends to sample or interpolate an original song (sound recording and/or musical composition) within the Nigeria jurisdiction, such artist or music producer is required by the Act to seek the necessary permit or license to reproduce, publish, perform, broadcast, or make adaptation of the original song. Such permit or license

is advisedly to be reduced to a form of agreement or contract to ensure that the terms and conditions of the permit or license is clearly stated to ensure a fair split of ownership and shared royalties of the sampled or interpolated song.

The following non-exhaustive guidelines for obtaining authorization to sample or interpolate an original song may be adopted by an artist or music producer:

  1. Before sampling or interpolating any musical work or sound recording, it is important to identify and contact the rights holder or copyright owner. This involves thorough research and potentially engaging with record labels of the artist or music producer, artist or music producer's management, music publishing companies or copyright organizations in Nigeria to ascertain ownership of the original musical work or sound recording;
  2. Upon identifying the rights holder, secure formal permission or licensing agreements to use the sampled or interpolated musical work or sound recording. This agreement should outline the terms of use, including royalties, limitations on usage, and the duration of the authorization;
  3. Ensure the adequate attribution to the original music owner or copyright holder by clearly crediting the original musical work or sound recording and the rights holder in your music release. This acknowledgment maintains transparency and respects the contributions of the original artist, music producer or songwriter;
  4. Seek legal advice from counsel specializing in intellectual property rights or entertainment law experts to ensure compliance and prevent potential legal risks.

Adopting these guidelines is relevant for artists, producers, and entities seeking to engage in lawful and ethical musical sampling and interpolation within the framework of the Nigerian Copyright Act 2022. Failure to obtain proper authorization or license or violating the provisions outlined in the Act can lead to lawsuits, fines, or injunctions, potentially resulting in damage to an artist's reputation and financial losses.

4. Examples of Sampling and Interpolation Disputes in Nigerian Music Industry

Although music sampling is prevalent in Nigeria, there have been no reported copyright suits associated with it. The following are examples of sampling disputes in the Nigerian music industry which were concluded with an out-of-court settlement without going into a full trial.

a. Danfo Drivers v. Tekno

Danfo Drivers, the music duo comprising Mountain Black and Mad Melon (now late), accused Tekno of sampling their song 'Kpolongo' without their consent. The Tekno song alleged to be a sampled song was his 2018 single 'Jogodo'. The two parties held a meeting in Lagos, Nigeria to resolve the issue. After the meeting, Tekno uploaded a picture of himself and the Danfo Drivers on his Instagram page to show their reconciliation. The details of the meeting were not made public at the time.9

b. Danny Young v. Tiwa Savage

Danny Young filed a N200 million copyright suit against Tiwa Savage and her management for her 2018 song, 'One,' which he claimed she copied from his 2009 single, "Oju Tiwon." In the suit, he sought a declaration that the defendants have infringed on his copyright by copying, performing, and distributing literary work and music lyrics authored and owned by him without lawful authority. He also sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants, whether by themselves or their agents, from further copying, performing, recording, reproducing, or communicating his musical composition to the public. However, the suit was ultimately settled out of court.10

Also, music interpolation disputes have a similar outcome to music sampling disputes in Nigeria, as there are no records of concluded copyright suits on music interpolation conflict matters. Where an action arises, it is mainly settled out-of-court. However, it is essential to note the elements or how a music interpolation dispute may arise. If the interpolated portion of a music is substantial and identifiable as the original work, it can constitute copyright infringement. However, if the use is minimal or unrecognizable, it might be considered fair use

and not likely to cause copyright infringement. For example, an artist using a recognizable melody or a significant portion of lyrics from a copyrighted song in their composition without proper authorization could be deemed copyright infringement through music interpolation. However, if the borrowed part of an original music is modified to be barely recognizable, it might be considered fair use and not lead to a copyright infringement action. In the foreign case of Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams v. Marvin Gaye's Estate (2018),11 Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and T.I. faced a lawsuit from Marvin Gaye's estate alleging that their hit song "Blurred Lines" copied elements from Gaye's "Got to Give It Up." The case centered on the "feel" and "groove" of the songs rather than direct melodic or lyrical similarities. In 2018, a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed (in part) an earlier jury decision in favor of the Gaye family, awarding them substantial damages. The court further held that "Got to Give It Up" was "entitled to broad copyright protection because musical compositions are not confined to a narrow range of expression".12

5. Conclusion

Recreating, sampling, and interpolating original music embodies the essence of artistic evolution, where creativity, innovation, and cultural exchange meet. The legal dynamics surrounding music sampling and interpolation in the Nigerian music market have evolved significantly, reflecting the need to balance the freedom of artists and music producers and copyright protection. Through examples of sampling disputes and growing awareness in Nigeria, Nigerian artists, producers, and other stakeholders continue to recognize the importance of obtaining proper clearances and permissions to avoid legal disputes. Despite the absence of a clear legal stance or decision on sampling or interpolation by the Nigerian courts, primarily due to the unwillingness of copyright holders to explore the full ambit of their intellectual property rights but preferring to opt for out-of-court settlements, the legality of sampling or interpolation is shielded by the provisions of the Nigerian Copyright Act 2022.

* Franklin Okoro, Associate, Intellectual Property and Technology Department, S.P.A. Ajibade & Co., Lagos, Nigeria.


1. See, United States Copyright Office (2021), "Sampling, Interpolations, Beat Stores and More: An Introduction for Musicians Using Preexisting Music", p. 4, available at https://www.copyright.gov/music-modernization/educational-materials/Sampling-Interpolations-Beat-Stores-and-More-An-Introduction-for-Musicians-Using-Preexisting.pdf, accessed 11th December 2023.

2. See, Songtrust, "What Is the Difference Between a Sample and an Interpolation?", available at https://help.songtrust.com/knowledge/what-is-the-difference-between-a-sample-and-interpolation#:~:text=While%20a%20sample%20is%20a,and%20reflects%20the%20underlying%20composition, accessed 11th December 2023.

3. See, United States Copyright Office (2021), "Sampling, Interpolations, Beat Stores and More: An Introduction for Musicians Using Preexisting Music", p. 3, available at https://www.copyright.gov/music-modernization/educational-materials/Sampling-Interpolations-Beat-Stores-and-More-An-Introduction-for-Musicians-Using-Preexisting.pdf, accessed 11th December 2023.

4. Ibid. p. 5.

5. Nigerian Copyright Act, 2022, Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette, No. 56 Lagos - 27th March 2023, Vol. 110, Act No. 8., page A179-243.

6. Section 9 of the Nigerian Copyright Act, 2022.

7. Section 12 of the Nigerian Copyright Act, 2022.

8. Sections 9 and 12 of the Nigerian Copyright Act, 2022.

9. See, Michael Aromolaran (2022), "Five Copyright Infringement Duels In The Nigerian Creative Space" available at https://culturecustodian.com/five-copyright-infringement-duels-in-the-nigerian-creative-space/, accessed 17th December 2023.

10. See, https://guardian.ng/life/copyright-suit-danny-young-and-tiwa-savage-settle-out-of-court/, accessed 17th December 2023.

11. No. 15-56880 (9th Cir. 2018).

12. See, https://www.forbes.com/sites/adriennegibbs/2018/03/21/marvin-gaye-wins-blurred-lines-lawsuit- pharrell-robin-thicke-t-i-off-hook/?sh=2a29d763689b, accessed 17th December 2023.

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.