Creatives and businesses involved in the creation of works eligible for copyright protection often ask how they can obtain copyright protection for their works. People often ask, if registration is a prerequisite for copyright protection and if registration is a condition for the exploitation of copyright in a work or for instituting a copyright infringement action.
Copyright in Nigeria is governed by the Nigerian Copyright Act. The Act confers copyright on works that satisfy the conditions laid down under the law. The two conditions that literary, artistic or musical works are required to satisfy are originality and fixation. A work is original if the author expends sufficient effort on it, thereby making it a unique representation of his original idea and efforts. While fixation refers to putting the work in a fairly permanent medium of expression, from which it can be reproduced or communicated. Upon the creation of an eligible work, copyright protection is automatically conferred on it, without the need for registration. Copyright is therefore automatic upon fixation of an eligible work. Copyright also automatically subsists in a broadcast, sound recording or a cinematograph film when it is created.A work that satisfies the legal requirements of originality and fixation will not become ineligible for copyright protection solely because the author of the work infringed copyright (that is, used a copyrighted work without the owner’s consent) in making the work in respect of which copyright is expected to be obtained.
Registration of works in which copyright subsists is not mandated by law, nor is it required as a prerequisite for the enjoyment of copyright protection. However, it is desirable, because it confers some benefits on the copyright owner. Nigeria currently operates a voluntary copyright registration system, administered by the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC). The NCC is a national agency responsible for the administration of copyright generally in Nigeria. Section 34(3)(e)& (f) of the Copyright Act mandate the NCC to maintain an effective data bank on authors and their works and to be responsible for all matters relating to copyright in Nigeria. It is in furtherance of its duties under the law that the NCC came up with the Nigerian Copyright E-registration system (NCeRS). The NCeRS is a voluntary registration system. This means that there are no sanctions or penalties for non-registration of copyright. Also, the registration system does not confer copyright on a person, but serves as an avenue to notify the state and the public of the creation or existence of a work in which copyright exists and to create a public record of copyrighted works and its ownership. It is for these reasons that a voluntary copyright registration system is often referred to as a copyright notification system. Registration is not required before an action can be instituted for infringement of copyright, but it can lighten the burden of establishing that an infringement has occurred.
The following are some of the benefits that registration confers:
- It creates a presumption of ownership of copyright: In the event of any dispute as to the ownership of copyright, the certificate issued upon registration establishes prima facie proof of ownership.
- It provides a national database of creative works in the country.
- It could enhance access to loan facilities. Globally, intellectual property is being utilised as security for loans. The Copyright Act provides that copyright, a form of intellectual property, may be dealt with just like movable property. Copyright may therefore be used as security for loans and the certificate issued upon registration may be tendered as title documents establishing ownership of copyright.
- It makes it easier to identify the authors or right holders of works in which copyright subsists. This in turn makes it easier for the obtaining of licenses and authorisation to use a copyrighted work. The world has turned into a global village and fast-paced technology has blurred territorial lines. For example, a work created by a Nigerian may be used in the United States; the Nigerian song ‘African Queen by TufaceIdibia and Black face was used in the Hollywood movie ‘Phat Girlz’.
- It also helps in calculating the term (duration) of copyright in a work, especially works by corporate bodies.
The copyright registration system is an efficient and affordable means of safeguarding copyright in a work, as it keeps a public record of copyright ownership and original copies of works in which copyright subsists. It also enhances rights management.