The Copyright Act LFN 2004 is the principal law that governs, protects copyrights in Nigeria, while the regulatory agency that supervises copyright registration in Nigeria is the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC). The Copyright Act (the Act) makes provisions for the protection, transfer, infringement, and remedies for infringement of copyrights in Nigeria.

Copyright is simply the exclusive right granted to an originator of creative work to reproduce the work for a limited period. Not all works can be copyrighted; the Act seeks to protect the creative works of authors, artistic works, songwriters, music publishers, cinematograph films, photographers, and all rounds creative.

The functions of the NCC under Section 34 (3) of the Act are as follows;

  • The Commission shall be responsible for all matters affecting Copyright in Nigeria.
  • Monitor and supervise Nigeria's position in relating to international convention and advised Government.
  • Advise and regulate conditions for the conclusion of bilateral and multilateral agreements between Nigeria and any other Country.
  • Enlighten and inform the public on matters relating to Copyright
  • Maintain an effective data bank on authors and their works.
  • Be responsible for such other matters as relating to Copyright in Nigeria as the Minister may, from time to time, direct.

All sections of the Act are important in governing copyright-related matters, but for the sake of this write-up, a few crucial areas of the Act will be examined below.

Works eligible for Copyright- as earlier stated, not all works can be copyrighted. Section 1 of the Act provides that the following listed works qualify for Copyright;

  • Literary works;
  • Musical works;
  • Artistic works;
  • Cinematograph films;
  • Sound recordings and;
  • Broadcast.

The above-listed works will not be eligible to be copyrighted except the following occurs;

  • Sufficient effort was expended in making the work to give it its original character;
  • The work has been fixed in a definite medium of expression that is now known or to be developed later from which it can be perceived either directly or with the aid of any machine;
  • At the time the work was done, it was intended by the author to be used as a model or pattern to be multiplied by an industrial process.

Moreover, work will not also be eligible to be copyrighted by reason that the making of the work or the doing of any act about the work involved an infringement of copyright in some other work.

Copyright under Nationality or Domicile – under Section 2 of the Act, Copyright can be conferred on every work eligible for Copyright of which the author or in the case of joint authorship, any of the author is a qualified person, that is to say, that the individual is domiciled in Nigeria or is a body corporate incorporated by the laws of Nigeria.

General Nature of Copyright- according to Section 6 of the Act, Copyright in work shall be the exclusive right to control the doing in Nigeria, in the case of a literary or musical work, to do and authorize the doing of any of the following acts;

  • Reproduce the work in any material form;
  • Publish the work;
  • Perform the work in public;
  • Produce, reproduce, perform or publish any translation of the work;
  • Make any cinematograph film or a record in respect of the work;
  • Distribute to the general public, for commercial purposes, copies of the work, by way of rental, lease, hire, loan, or similar arrangement;
  • Broadcast or communicate the work to the public by a loudspeaker or any other similar device;
  • Make any adaptation of the work;
  • Do about a translation or an adaptation of the work.

The doing of any of the acts mentioned above shall be in respect of a whole or a substantial part of the work either in its original form or in any way recognizably derived from the original.

Assignment and Licencing- Section 11 of the Act makes provisions for the assignment and licensing of copyright in Nigeria. It states that Copyright shall be transmitted by testamentary disposition or by operation of the law, as moveable property. The assignment will be limited to apply to only some of the acts which the owner of the Copyright has exclusive right to control, or to a party only of the period of the Copyright or to a specified country or geographical area. The assignment of Copyright and exclusive license to do an act controlled by the Copyright must be in writing to be effective.

An assignment or license granted by one copyright owner shall have effect as if granted by his co-owner also, and subject to any contract between them, fees received by the grantees shall be divided equitably between all the co-owners.

Co-owners of a Copyright- by Section 11(6) of the Act, co-owners of copyrights are persons who have a joint interest in the whole or any part of Copyright or if they have interests in the various copyrights in composite production, that is to say, a production consisting of two or more works.

Infringement of Copyright- Section 15 of the Act provides for the infringement of Copyright in Nigeria. Copyright is infringed by any person who, without the license or authorization of the owner of the Copyright does the following acts;

  • Does or causes any other person to do an act, the doing of which is controlled by Copyright.
  • Import or causes to be imported into Nigeria any copy of a work which it had been made in Nigeria would be an infringing copy.
  • Exhibit in public any article in respect of which copyright is infringed.
  • Distributes by way of trade, offers for sale, hires, or otherwise for the purpose prejudicial to the owner of the Copyright any article in respect of which Copyright is infringed.
  • Makes or has in his possession plates, master tapes, machines, equipment, or contrivances used for making infringed copies of the work.
  • Permits a place of public entertainment or business to be used for a performance in public of the work, where the performance constitutes an infringement of the Copyright in work, unless the person permitting the place to be used not aware, and had no reasonable ground for suspecting the performance would be an infringement of the Copyright.
  • Performs or causes to be performed for trade or business or as supporting facility to a trade or business, any work in which Copyright subsists.

Action for Infringement- Section 16 of the Act provides that an action for infringement of Copyright shall be actionable at the suit of the owner, assignee, or an exclusive licensee of Copyright in the Federal High Court exercising jurisdiction in the place where the infringement occurred. In action for infringement, all reliefs by way of damages, injunctions, accounts, or otherwise shall be available to the plaintiff.

Where in any action for infringement of Copyright, it is proved or admitted that an infringement was committed, but at the time of the infringement, the defendant was not aware and had no reasonable grounds for suspecting that the Copyright existed in the work to which the action relates, the plaintiff will not be entitled to any damages against the defendant in respect of the infringement, but shall be entitled to an account of profits in respect of the infringement, whether or not any other relief is granted.

The registration process of a Copyright in Nigeria

It is essential to state that registering a copyright is not a precondition for the work to be protected. Hence, copyright may not need to be registered. The rights enjoyed simply activate automatically when the work is created. However, registered copyright with the NCC prevents others from copying the work and protects the author from any infringement.

The application for Copyright is submitted to the office of the Commission accompanied by the prescribed fees, a completed registration form, and copies of the work to be copyrighted.

Upon registration, the rights enjoyed by the license holder are limited to the duration of the lifetime of the holder and 70 years after his death.

For films, sound recordings, performances, the holder enjoys Copyright for 50 years from the time the work was first published.

Software Copyrights in Nigeria

The software (also known as a computer program) can be registered as part of literary works in Nigeria. Section 39 of the Act defines literary works to include computer programme. The same interpretation section defines a computer programme as "a set of statement or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result." Therefore, any software can be registered and protected as copyrights in Nigeria.

An individual or corporate entity may register the software as the author/owner. Where software is to be registered and owned by an entity, it must be accompanied by a letter of transfer written by any individuals who have participated in the development or writing of the software.

Finally, a copyright is an exclusive legal right granted to an author of creative work to use the work and distribute it as he deems fit for a limited time. Although every author ordinarily enjoys protection for all works made, either registered or not, however, registration creates a certainty of ownership in case of any dispute in respect of similar work, and it makes it easier for authors to protect their works against any future infringement.

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.