The proposed overhaul of the Copyright Act is in order
At a time when stories of kidnapping, banditry, power failure and politics dominate the headlines, it is heartwarming to hear some good news coming from the National Assembly. The Senate recently considered and passed the bill to repeal the 34-year-old Copyright Act and replace it with a new one. Delivering the report of his committee, Senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele said the bill (a marriage of the one from the executive and that proposed by a private member) would enhance the competitiveness of the creative industries in a knowledge-based global economy, provide for more effective protection of rights, allow for appropriate exceptions to guarantee access and advance public welfare as well as generally enhance copyright administration and enforcement.
In Nigeria today, the creative and knowledge industries are highly undervalued. Yet they are the country’s most valuable economic resources after oil. The music, film and literary sectors have helped to raise the profile of Nigeria as a country that the world listens to and takes seriously. But there is a problem. According to a recent survey carried out by Price Waterhouse and Coopers (PWC), Nigeria, despite its reputation as a major film producing country, had only 171 movie screens catering for its over 190 million people. This would translate to one screen per 1.1 million people! The publishing industry is suffering under the weight of piracy and other copyright abuses while the return on investment in the music industry is barely sufficient to guarantee its sustainability.
With the emergence of the Internet and online businesses, opportunities abound for start-ups from anywhere to gain global prominence. Talents and opportunities abound in all areas of the creative space: writing, film, music, broadcasting, fashion, visual art, software, standup comedy, etc. But there are also challenges that make them vulnerable to technology-empowered predators that abound online and offline. Understandably, the threats posed by the digital environment would easily overwhelm a copyright system that was designed for an analogue world. Hence the need for a total rewriting of the Copyright Act and an overhaul of the regulatory and administrative framework of the Nigerian copyright system in line with global best practices and the country’s international obligations under the relevant treaties.
To bring this laudable initiative to a successful berth, other imperatives must be addressed. First, as a matter of urgency, an early concurrence of the House of Representatives would be desirable before the entire legislative machinery is lockdown on account of politics. Second, relevant right owner associations, concerned government agencies and other stakeholders in the copyright sector must commit to a paradigm shift in the administration of copyright and bring about the needed attitudinal change in the copyright culture.
Third, industry practitioners must make the needed changes in their business models and be more proactive in the new system. The enforcement of rights must not be left to government agencies alone. Industry practice and internal mechanisms must be recalibrated while co-operations across all the subsectors should be encouraged. Fourth, working with other stakeholders, the Nigerian Copyright Commission should seize the opportunity of a new copyright regime to intensify its public awareness and education programmes and assist in building a more functional and responsive copyright ecosystem. Lawyers and judges, as major players in the use of the law must be trained and retrained to make their task less cumbersome.
Nigeria has made tremendous progress of growing its creative sector with limited policy intervention. The passage of the new Copyright Bill should therefore be a watershed from the past and a big leap towards bringing the gains of creativity to its people and ultimately as a tool of national development.
Culled: Thisday Editorial