Understanding Nigerian Copyright Law for Music and Musicians

saxophone-musical work- copyright

Copyright law can be complex and intimidating, but as a musician, you need to understand this law in order to know how best to protect yourself and your art.

In this first instalment of our three-part series on Demystifying Nigerian Copyright law for the Nigerian Creative, we have simplified copyright law by breaking it down into six subheadings that tell you what copyright is and how you can use it to protect yourself as a musician.

What does copyright law protect?

Copyright protects original creative works that are fixed in a tangible form. For music, two types of creative works are copyrightable- ‘musical works’ and ‘sound recordings’.
Under section 51 of the Nigerian Copyright Act, a musical work is defined as any musical composition and includes works composed for musical accompaniment, thus a ‘musical work’ includes sheet music, beats and lyrics. Copyright in a ‘musical work’ usually resides in the creator- the beat maker, the composer, the songwriter.

A sound recording, on the other hand, is “the first fixation of a sequence of sound capable of being perceived aurally and of being reproduced”, this basically refers to the specific recording of a musical work and copyright in it usually resides in the artiste in whose name the recording was made unless a contract is made between the parties involved stating differently.

How long does your copyright last?

Copyright in a musical work lasts for 70 years after the end of the year the creator dies, and if the work was created with any additional creator such as writing partners, the copyright lasts seventy years after the death of the last surviving author. In the case of a copyright owner that is a government or corporate body, the lifespan is 70 years after the end of the year the work was first published.
On the other hand, copyright in a sound recording subsists for only 50 years after the end of the year in which the recording was first published.
Once the copyright period ends, the work enters the public domain and anyone is free to use it.

What rights does a copyright owner have?

As the owner of a copyright in a musical work, Section 6 of the Nigerian Copyright Act gives you exclusive control over acts such as commercial distribution of the work by way of rental, lease, hire, loan or similar arrangement, performance of the work, publication of the work, reproduction of the work, preparation of derivative works based upon the work, public display of the work, broadcast or communication of the work to the public by a loudspeaker or any other similar device, adaptation, translation, or making of any cinematograph film or a record in respect of the work.
In other words, your copyright gives you the right to record your music, sell or otherwise distribute copies of your music in various formats, make new works from your original work such as sampling your music to create a new song, perform your music in public, post your music online, and stream your music. Not only does a copyright give you the right to do these things with your music, but it allows you to stop others from doing these things with your music without your permission.
Copyright owners of sound recordings do not enjoy as much control as copyright owners of musical works do. This is because originality is not a requirement for copyright protection of sound recordings.
Therefore, as far as sound recording is concerned, Section 7 expressly states that copyright in a sound recording is the exclusive right to control the broadcasting, recording, communication, or commercial distribution to the public of the whole or substantial part of the recording either in its original form or in any form recognizably derived from the original.

Can you lose your Copyright?

If the creator of a musical work assigns or sells her copyright in the work to a record label or any other person, she loses the exclusive rights granted to her under Section 6 of the Copyright Act, and all she is left with is her moral right – authorial attribution as creator of the song, and right to prevent derogatory distortion or mutilation of the work which is prejudicial to her reputation-which cannot be assigned or sold.
In such a situation, the rights provided for in Section 6 are transferred to the assignee of the copyright, and the transferee is given exclusive rights over the musical work to reproduce, distribute, broadcast or perform as the case may be, and restrain any other person, including the creator of the work, from exercising such rights.

Do music performers have rights?

Neighbouring rights are rights that are related to copyright but are not exactly copyright. For music, this right exists to protect people who perform musical works. Section 26 provides that a music performer has the right to control the performing, recording, broadcasting live, reproducing in any material form, and adaptation of her musical performance. This right applies to her specific musical performance alone, and not the musical work that was performed.
This right lasts for 50 years after the end of the year in which the performance first took place.

How do you enforce your rights?

As described above, owning a copyright in a work gives you the right to do certain things with your music, and to prevent the doing of those things by other people.
When someone exploits your exclusive rights without your license or authorization, it is known as copyright infringement and is actionable by you. This is generally when you should get your lawyer involved.

Comments? Questions? Make your voice heard in our comments section below or email us.

Author’s note: The answer to the question, “What does copyright law protect?” has been edited. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice, please contact a lawyer about your situation. 

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