Understanding Nigerian Copyright Law for Film Makers

film imageCopyright in film and video can be a little technical because of the various elements that go together to become films. From scripts, to soundtracks, artistic works that are featured, and even other films that may be included in your film. It is important that a filmmaker understands copyright law as it affects their art. 

In this second instalment of our three-part series on demystifying Nigerian Copyright law for the Nigerian Creative, we have simplified copyright law for film makers by breaking it down into four questions that tell you what copyright is and how you can use it to protect yourself as a filmmaker.  

What does copyright law protect? 

Copyright in film protects the author’s exclusive right to make a copy of their film, make it seen or heard in public, use the film’s soundtrack, and distribute commercially. These rights have a term of fifty years after the end of the year it was first published. The author also has the right to authorise the doing of these acts by other persons as well as the right to claim authorship.  

Film and video in the context of this article refers to ‘cinematograph film’ as defined in the Copyright Act to include the ‘first fixation of a sequence of visual images capable of being shown as a moving picture and of being the subject of reproduction, and includes the recording of a sound track associated with the cinematograph film.’ This clearly covers film as filmmakers know it. 

The author of a film “means the person by whom the arrangements for the making of the film were made, unless the parties to the making of the film, provide otherwise by contract between themselves.” In Nigeria the author usually means the producer of the film as they usually make arrangements for the making of the film, except otherwise provided by contract.  

Because of the different creative efforts required to put a film together and the different constituent copyrights, the act requires the author to make contracts in writing with all those whose works are to be used in the making of the work before the making of the works.  

gavel representing law

What contributors have copyrights in my film? 

Copyright in film can be complex because of the several different copyrighted materials that can be included in one film. Common copyright materials that go into making films are; 

The script- copyright is usually owned by the scriptwriter unless otherwise provided for by written contract. 

Music- Any music recorded independently of the film is owned by the author of the music. This does not cover soundtracks associated and recorded specifically for the film in question. Those are owned by the author of the film by default. 

Artistic works such as images, paintings and backdrops which are eligible for copyright independently. 

Performance- performers also have rights over their performance. Amongst other things, they have control over recording, broadcasting and reproduction in any form and where the recording of a performance is to be included in a film, permission has to be obtained from the performer.  

However, unless it is expressly stated in a contract that a person whose works is used in the making of a film has copyright in the film, such person’s copyright only covers his work which was used in the making of the film and not the film itself. For instance, if your song is used in a movie without your permission, you can go after the maker of the film for infringement of your copyright but this does not give you copyright over the film itself. The author of the film still has copyright in the film so long as it fulfils other requirements for copyright such as originality.   

How much can I use from other films or copyrighted material? 

Technically, you can use from other films or copyrighted materials in your film without infringing the right of the authors if it is not the ‘whole’ or a ‘substantial’ part of the work.  

The risk posed by this is how you determine ‘substantial’. If you use 5 seconds of a five-minute music clip in your film, is that substantial? Some may argue, no. However, what happens if that 5 seconds is the most memorable/popular part of the music? It is usually safer to obtain permission when you are using any copyright material whether in part or whole. 

When can people use my film without my permission? 

Copyright in films expires fifty years after the end of the year in which the work was first published. This would mean that people can begin to use your work without your permission after fifty years though the Copyright Act in Nigeria gives the author the right to claim authorship of his work or prevent modification of such work where it will affect the reputation or honour of the author. It is stated that these rights are ‘imprescriptible’ and ‘inalienable’. Thus, where anyone uses your film without your permission because the term of copyright has expired, you can still claim authorship and prevent modification that affects your reputation negatively. 

Also, your film can be used without infringing your copyright if- 

  • It is by way of fair dealing. Fair dealing refers to use for research, private use, criticism, review or reporting subject to acknowledgement of authorship. 
  • The use is by way of “Parody, pastiche or caricature.” 
  • It is for educational purposes. 
  • It is used by the government for non-commercial purposes. 
  • It is reproduced for lawful broadcast purposes. That is, where your permission has been obtained for your film to be broadcast, the broadcaster can make copies where necessary for the broadcast. 
  • It is communicated in public by a non-profit club if no admission fee is charged. 

Any more questions or comments? Make your voice heard in our comments section below or email us. The next article in the series will be on copyright law for photographers in Nigeria. 

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



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