This week’s IP Lawyers’ Speakers Series guest is Mr. Lawrence Nnoli, a Criminal Law Lawyer and a Prosecutor with the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC). He has several years of experience in diverse areas of law including corporate law practice, intellectual property law and criminal law and practice. He is licensed in Nigeria and has an LL.B. from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.
Q. What is it like working for the NCC? What state do you practice?
Working for Nigerian Copyright Commission has been a rare opportunity for me to have a first hand experience of what Intellectual property law, especially copyright law in Nigeria, is all about. I am attached to the Lagos zonal office of the commission.
Q. What steps or cause of action can an individual take if they believe that their works have been used in violation of their copyright?
There are 3 basic steps they can take:
A. They can decide to seek redress through civil action in court.
B. They can decide to seek redress through reporting the violation at the commission and by so doing inviting the weight of the law against the alleged infringer through criminal prosecution by the commission.
C. They can as well take up the above two methods simultaneously because such is allowed in our Copyright Act.
Q. How does the NCC respond to reports of copyright infringement?
First, a report or a complaint is lodged at the commission and the same is investigated by the commission. Following the outcome of the investigation, the commission can decide either to prosecute the suspect(s) or not. It all depends on the outcome of the investigation. If the commission decides to prosecute, the suspect is arraigned at the Federal High Court. The Federal High Court has exclusive jurisdiction to try copyright matters both in civil and criminal matters. The commission also encourages alternative dispute resolution where it is possible.
Q. The NCC recently made a lot of arrests especially in Alaba market, tell us more about these arrests?
Some suspects from Alaba were arrested by the Police and handed over to the commission. Subsequently, other arrests were made by the commission. The alleged crime of those suspects border on illegal reproduction of cinemagraphic films, some of which are still in cinema. At the moment, criminal charges have been filed at the Federal High Court against some of them whose investigations have been concluded by the commission while investigations are still ongoing for other suspects.
Q. Are there any promising signs that Piracy is coming under control or is it generally getting worse?
First, the commission is doing its best with the resources at its disposal to curtail this menace. All it takes for piracy to be controlled in Nigeria is the political will of the Federal government to fight it since copyright matters fall under the exclusive legislative list which is provided under second schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic 1999. The present administration led by President Buhari has demonstrated this willingness. It may interest you to know that the arrests made by the commission at Alaba market recently which you referred to were the direct results of the directive given by the Federal Government to the Inspector General of Police to work with the commission in stamping out piracy in Nigeria. Unlike before where the commission goes to solicit the assistance of the police in carrying out their statutory mandate, the police is now looking for the commission to offer active assistance. Those arrests have sent strong signals to the pirates all over Nigeria especially to Alaba market which is the den of pirates in Nigeria. For instance, last week, the market taskforce at Alaba on their own arrested a pirate and handed him over to the commission.
Q. Over the last few years, the NCC has maintained a website, which it has kept updated. The website has been out of service for approximately 2 months, is there a reason for this?
It has to do with technical challenges. Work is in progress to restore it.
Q. One Trend we have noticed is that a lot of the cases we have read have focused on prosecuting copyright infringement for locally manufactured movies or music or protecting local artistes. Can a foreigncompany or individual reach out to the NCC?
YES. The copyright Act in Section 5(1) (b) made that possible. However, such foreign works of foreign authors can only be protected in Nigeria if such foreign work was first published in a country which is a party to an obligation in a treaty or other national agreement to which Nigeria is a party. An example is the popular Berne convention. Once a nation is a party to the Berne convention, all its citizens’ copyright works enjoy copyright protection in Nigeria. The names of the nations that its citizens enjoy copyright protection in Nigeria are listed in the Schedule ofthe Copyright (Reciprocal Extension) order.
The reason the media publishes news reports about local cases is because local authors or licensees are the ones that make use of the government machinery more often than their foreign counterparts. All the same, the commission has been treating complaints of foreign authors and some are already been prosecuted by the commission. Many foreigners and Nigerians are of the opinion that foreign works are not protected by the Copyright Act. As a prosecutor, I have been involved in some cases in court where suspects and even their lawyers claim that since the works they are pirating are foreign works, they are free from copyright protection in Nigeria. But the courts have held otherwise.
Q. Any other information you would like to share with our readers?
The Copyright Act needs amendment. With the upsurge in Information Technology, efforts by World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in coming up with viable treaties like WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and Wipo Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT) should be embraced by the Federal Government and domesticated to meet emerging trends and challenges in the industry. Of recent, a draft copy of the proposed amended Copyright Act was sent to the coordinating minister by the commission. This draft copy of the proposed amendment, to a large extent addressed the current problems facing the sector.
Thank you for taking time to talk to us.