• Friday, June 14, 2024
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Nigeria’s copyright laws are outdated – Oyinkansola Fawehinmi

Nigeria’s copyright laws are outdated – Oyinkansola Fawehinmi

The Nigerian music industry has evolved over the past decades and with its evolution follows developing structures to guide the affairs of revenues generated from platforms established to make the consumption of music more accessible.

Composition (publishing) and recording are the two main components of music, and because artists frequently lack an understanding of the income generated by these two parts of their industry, they frequently fail to receive the proper compensation for their efforts.

Oyinkansola Fawehinmi, an award-winning lawyer and executive in the entertainment industry, sat with BusinessDay to examine the state of music publishing in Nigeria. She also discussed copyright laws in Nigeria and the standards that music labels, business executives, and artists must meet.

How does the music business work in Nigeria, especially the era of streaming?

The music business in Nigeria is still growing its structures. The more popular and globally accepted we’re becoming, the more we’re working to put better structures in place to make sure we meet global standards. Things like revenue collection, copyright, and remittance processes are still in the process of being improved. We’re also exploring different revenue streams at different points in time, which is a positive sign.

Overall, it’s an ongoing process, everything you see right now is a response to what’s needed at the moment. This affects the kind of deals you get and the kind of licensing you have.

So, most of what we have in our industry right now are agreements and these agreements between individuals and local corporations are being tested in courts.

Music publishing has always been about monetizing music components and collecting Royalties. Can you guide us through your experience working with music publishing agents or companies in Nigeria?

Music publishing in Nigeria is a growing concept because our copyright protection laws are still rooted in a period that’s entirely different from what we currently have. The style of our music: how it was recorded and produced was quite different in the 1960s than we have now.

Then our copyright laws were adopted from Britain which was governed by the English Copyright Act of 1911 and by 1970, we had one specially adapted to our local needs and subsequent ones built on the provisions in the previous act(s).

In the 60s, everyone produced music live, you had the likes of Celestine Ukwu and his Merry Band, Cardinal Rex Lawson, and Mike Ejeagha and his Premier Band who all played live music. In that type of setup, there’s usually a lead guy who is performing with support from their band members while the performance is being recorded by the record company. These companies in turn own the performance and composition. So, publishing was embedded in the record label back then.

This gives you context to what we currently have in terms of copyright. So, our copyright laws, while they exist, are not exactly as detailed as that of other regions. They are not fully representative of how music is being created at this current time.

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When I came in about seven years ago, with some of my colleagues, we started a campaign seeking to inform key stakeholders that music-making has moved from being live recorded to being produced in the studio. The producer can do what a 10-man band would do on a laptop. So, their role then changes because now they became music owners making publishing possible.

The conversation started because it wasn’t an ideal mentality and our laws haven’t changed as much. We had to do a lot of orientation and education which came with a bit of resistance. We worked with the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), including several meetings explaining the new idea, guiding and helping them to understand the new perspective as to how music was being made in the industry. That led us to start having key conversations.

Back then you’d hear artists come out to say they own 100 percent of their work, so when we started having these conversations and changing the orientation things began to change. We were using outlets like ‘The Sarz Academy trains producers to know they are entitled to a certain percentage of the revenue every time their music sound is used.

The outcome of all these efforts led to the founding of one of the first modern publishing companies in the country, Greenlight Music Publishing — which I founded with some other people. Since then knowledge has greatly increased and I am excited to see what’s happening now.

What should artists look out for and what do they do when going into a publishing deal?

It depends on where the publisher is from because laws are different depending on variables such as geographical location and language. If you’re going to be working with a publisher from France or Germany it’s always advised to get a lawyer from that region. If you’re working with a local lawyer from your region, they typically work with other lawyers from the other region to get clarity and context on specific laws. But primarily, you should be looking out for the terms of your contract: How long is the contract?

After the main contract is over there are some other time frames that are also included, so you need to look out for what’s your deliverable in the agreement. Where are they supposed to be collecting? When are they supposed to be remitted to you? Also, who’s going to take care of you? If you’re signed with a big company make sure there’s someone like an account manager in there who is going to be reporting to you.

What are the flaws with songwriters when signing contracts? Are these problems prevalent? What can be changed?

Writers don’t know what they sign. Get yourself a proper representation. Most times people are unable to tell what rights are contained in the contract, and so they think they’re being cheated but really that’s what they’re entitled to in all fairness.

Mostly, the lack of good representation is a bane for songwriters like this. The languages are very different too. Even though it looks like English, it still takes a bit of time to understand it, so just get a lawyer.

Godwin Tom, Managing Director Sony Music Publishing Nigeria mentioned recently on a Twitter space that it’s important for the industry to invest in more publishing companies to cater to a large number of artists in Nigeria. What are your thoughts on that and how can it be executed? Should the government be involved?

We need more local music publishing on the ground. We’re a country of 200 million people, the big three cannot solve all our problems. They can only help to partner and expose the works. The local publishing companies can help to A&R, incubate, and develop songwriters and producers which helps them build and pitch catalogs.

It’s not only Netflix that uses content. Others need the content too, except that they have smaller budgets. So, now, imagine a local company locks in like 20 of these types of people? That’s a lot of money to be made right there. Lastly, the government shouldn’t be involved in creating companies but it can provide the infrastructure to help smaller companies thrive.