In 2017, Nigeria saw several major developments in the Intellectual Property (IP) landscape. Professor Adebambo Adewopo was sworn in as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) – the first IP expert to assume this honored position. Nigeria has additionally recently ratified the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Internet Treaties and the Marrakesh Treaty for the Blind. Coupled with Nigeria’s efforts to reform its domestic Copyright Act, it appears that the nation has begun to focus on IP as a policy priority. However, what do these international treaties hold and how can the new domestic Copyright Act adequately protect Nigeria’s interests?
On an international level, the WIPO Internet Treaties, consisting of the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty, provide international guidance for the prevention of unauthorized access to creative works in the digital age. The Marrakesh Treaty seeks to facilitate access to published works for visually impaired people. As signatories to these international agreements, Nigeria will now be bound to abide by the stipulations and restrictions embedded in them, and these requirements will be reflected in the new domestic Copyright Act.Nigeria currently faces a challenge because the draft Copyright Act uses the same language as these international treaties, restricting the country’s ability to make the new act work for its own interests.
While the aims of these international treaties seem positive on the surface, Nigeria must ensure that they are implemented in a way that is advantageous to its domestic policy goals. International agreements promulgated outside of the African continent have a history of constraining national policy choices. Political scientist Claude Ake highlights this historical tension in Chapter 2 of his book Democracy and Development in Africa: “Nowhere is the conflict more evident than in the rift between the Bretton Woods institutions and African governments over approaches to African development. . . . The development of Africa will not start in earnest until the struggle over development agendas is determined” (pgs. 21, 41). The reforms to the domestic Copyright Act must thus account for these potential constraints in order to adequately protect Nigeria’s interests.
Professor Funmi Arewa, who initially served as the Chair of Nigeria’s Copyright Reform Committee, notes that “External parties will not negotiate international agreements in Nigeria’s best interests. Nigerians themselves must take ownership of the process by which they engage with international treaties in order to protect their own interests. By signing these treaties without thinking about domestic implementation, Nigeria misses an opportunity to use intellectual property to facilitate development.” Professor Adewopo further notes that Nigeria’s IP laws have remained largely unsuited to emergent commercial and technological development.
The current reform of the Copyright Act thus presents a tremendous opportunity for Nigeria to take ownership of its interpretation and implementation of the international treaties it has ratified. To be progressive, Nigeria’s new Copyright law should, at a minimum, include a Fair Use Doctrine and provisions related to Artificial Intelligence. It should also address the country’s need for educational materials and strengthen Nigeria’s libraries. Nigeria’s historic reputation for producing highly skilled literary labor for the world, including, among many others, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, should be protected. The draft bill should help Nollywood and the Nigerian music industry and prescribe a way to manage the copyrights of Nigerians overseas. It should clearly delineate specific realms of authority for collecting societies like the Copyright Society of Nigerian (COSoN) and Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN). It should additionally strike a balance between stimulating creativity and innovation in a vibrant startup scene, and protecting local ideas. If the draft bill does not address these issues, the Senate should not pass it as it will be a step backwards for the country. Can Nigeria rise to the challenge to protect its own interests?
KC Olumayowa is a student and author. Based in Abuja. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.