Copyright is a form of intellectual property. It has been defined by Black's Law Dictionary, 9th Edition as a right granted to the author or originator of certain literary or artistic productions, whereby the creator is invested, for a limited period, with the sole and exclusive privilege of multiplying copies of the literary or artistic works and publishing or selling them.

The Copyright Act Chapter C28 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 (Copyright Act), does not define the word "works". However, Section 1 (1) of the Copyright Act provides that the following shall be eligible for protection:

  1. Literary works
  2. Musical works
  3. Artistic works
  4. Cinematographic films
  5. Sound recordings
  6. broadcasts

Any work that is created which does not fall under the foregoing categorisation cannot vest copyright in its creator. Furthermore, it is not sufficient to have created a work; such work will only be eligible for legal protection if:

"(a) Sufficient effort has been expended on making the work to give it an original character;

(b) The work has been fixed in any definite medium of expression now known or later to be developed, from which it can be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated either directly or with the aid of any machine or device."

It can be gleaned from the above statutory provision that the moment a literary, musical or artistic work has been fixed in a definitive form and effort has been expended on the work to give it an original character, it qualifies as a work eligible for protection.

Originality within this context does not connote inventiveness or novelty. It simply denotes that the work was not copied or plagiarised. It is therefore pertinent to note that copyright does not protect ideas and copyright is acquired by expending skills on a work and not by invention.

Copyright does not need to be registered to enjoy protection

Unlike other forms of intellectual property like patents, designs and trademarks, a work that is eligible for copyright does not need to be registered in order for it to enjoy legal protection. An eligible work enjoys protection as soon as it is created and fixed in a definite medium.

However, the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) provides owners of copyrights the option to deposit a copy of their works with the NCC and receive a certificate which serves as notification of the existence of the work to the general public. Section 34 (2 (3) of the Copyright Act states that the NCC is also required to maintain an effective data bank on authors and their works.

Duration of copyright

Literary, musical or artistic works

Copyright in literary, musical or artistic works other than photographs lasts until seventy (70) years following the death of the author. In cases where the work is owned by a government or a body corporate, the copyright in the literary, musical or artistic work will expire seventy (70) years after the work was first published.

Films, photographs and sound recordings

Copyright in films and photographs lasts 50 years after the year the work was first published. Copyright in sound recordings also lasts 50 years after the recording was first published.

Under part 2 of these series, we will examine in depth the nature of works that are eligible for protection, how a work can be protected and the remedies available to the owner of a work when his copyright is being infringed.

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.