• Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Protection of content creators from exploitation in the digital age

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Do content creators get proper credit for their identity or creation? Most do not even realise they have something worth protecting. In this digital era, content creators and social media influencers make a living through YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and other social media platforms.

The content they create is exposed to the public and at risk of exploitation, however, their focus is often on the exposure they receive rather than the protection of their work.

According to the Nigerian copyright law, content creators’ work is protected by copyright as long as it fulfils the requirements of originality and fixation. The content or work must be created independently, not copied from anywhere else, and it must also be fixed in a tangible medium of expression. These conditions are enough to establish copyright protection over their work. Content creators can protect more than just their works, they can also protect their personalities or identities as content creators. This is particularly relevant to online comedians who adopt a specific persona for their comedy skits.

The image or identity of a successful media personality is a commercially valuable asset that ought to be protected from unauthorised exploitation. Media personalities such as musicians and actors build an image or reputation while engaging in their business, and this image can be monetised through endorsements or merchandising to promote business activities.

The protection of this image is recognised by the World Intellectual Property Organization as image or personality rights, which grant individuals the right to control the commercial use of their identity. This right is violated when a person’s identity is used for commercial purposes without authorisation to enjoy the reputation or goodwill attached to that identity. The identity of a person includes their name, image or likeness. The identity of media personalities holds significant value as it can easily attract consumers to your products or businesses.

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In an article titled “personality merchandising in Nigeria: prospects and challenges” by Dorcas Odunaike, it was recognised that there is no specific law protecting personality rights in Nigeria, and as such, they are protected through existing intellectual property rights such as trademarks or the common law principle of passing off. To enjoy protection under trademark laws, the “mark” one seeks to protect must be fully registered. This includes protecting one’s name, signature, and even slogans. Remedies can also be sought under the common law principle of passing off, which recognises that injustice is done when a person’s name, image or persona is exploited for business purposes without their consent.

In this digital era, the protection of personality rights has become a more complex issue due to the expansion of media personalities to include content creators such as social media influencers, YouTubers, and reality TV stars from shows such as Big Brother Naija. This observation was made in a publication titled “Personality Rights In The Digital Age: What You Need To Know” authored by Chase Lawyers. In addition to protecting their content, they are entitled to protect their personality, which encompasses their name, image, likeness as well as their brand, such as catchphrases or gimmicks. Personality rights involve exploiting the unique aspects of an individual to market a product or service. What is exploited is the goodwill attached to the use of that person’s name, image or likeness.

In Nigeria, it is common to use the images of celebrities on signage, and the individuals involved often see nothing wrong with this act of infringement; instead, they view it as a form of promotion or positive acknowledgement. Despite the lack of awareness on this matter, content creators and other media personalities are becoming more aware of the value of their name, image, likeness and more importantly, their creativity.

In 2016, Richard Mofe-Damijo (popularly known as ‘RMD’) successfully sued Jumia for the unauthorised use of his image to advertise their services on their social media platform. Similarly, in 2018, an American-based Nigerian model, Nneoma Anosike, successfully sued Wema Bank Plc through her father, for the unauthorised use of her image to promote their services.

In 2021, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde trademarked her first name ‘Omotola’ to prevent others from using it to start a business in the entertainment industry and potentially causing confusion among consumers.

Regarding content creators, there are two notable instances to be mentioned. In 2020, Debo Macaroni called out Wema Bank Plc in a Twitter post for using his catchphrase ‘Ooin! You’re Doing Well’ in their email without seeking his consent first. Similarly, in 2022, Chukwuemeka Emmanuel (popularly known as ‘Oga Sabinus’) sued Friesland Foods Wamco Nigeria Plc for using his catchphrase ‘Something Hooge’ in the advertisement of their product, Peak Milk, on their social media page. The aforementioned instances were not successful as the catchphrases had not been properly registered as trademarks. Despite the unfavourable outcomes for the content creators, it is commendable that they are now aware of the value of their creativity.

Several recommendations can be made to better protect content creators from unauthorised exploitation. Considering the dearth of laws specifically addressing personality rights, it is important for the government to enact a single, comprehensive legislation that upholds this right and provides a strong legal framework for content creators to seek protection under. Also, it is important to raise the public’s awareness on this subject matter and educate both content creators and the general public about personality rights. This would allow them to be more prepared to navigate the complexity of the digital age and correctly assert their rights. They will also do well by taking proactive steps to protect their personality rights, by registering their identities as trademarks.

In addition to copyright laws and advocacy, technological solutions can be adopted to protect content creators from exploitation. For instance, Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies such as digital watermarks, blockchain, are viable options that can be relied on to prevent the unpermitted use, copying and distribution of digital content.

In conclusion, the content creation business is a multi-billion-dollar industry that is providing much needed opportunities for the youths to monetise their knowledge and creative skills. Venture Africa recently reports that the industry is worth over $104 billion globally with further growth expected in the next few years. And as such care and diligence must be taken to nurture the potentials of this nascent industry not only for financial empowerment, job creation but also for the exhibition of entrepreneurial enterprise. Therefore, the protection of content creators from copyright violations in the digital age is an important issue that requires multifaceted approaches from all stakeholders and government agencies.

In the Nigerian context, technological solutions, robust legal and regulatory protections, and raising awareness and education are quintessential to enable content creators to make the most of their creativity and continue to produce high-quality content for the benefit of society.

Chiamaka Anakua and Chinedu Okoro are of the Christopher Kolade Centre for Research in Leadership & Ethics (CKCRLE), Lagos Business School.