Copyright in a work confers on the right holder two categories of rights; economic rights and moral rights. Economic rights and moral rights are subject to different terms of protection under the Copyright Act. Economic rights refer to the exclusive right to do and control the doing of any of the acts enumerated in section 6 of the Copyright Act.
Some of the acts include the right to reproduce the work, publish the work, perform the work, translate or adapt the work. During the duration of the term of protection granted to a copyright holder, others are precluded from doing any of the acts covered by copyright, however, when copyright ceases to subsist in the work, the right holder loses the right to control the use of
his work, subject to certain exceptions.
Copyright under the Nigerian copyright regime does not last forever. It is not a right that continues in perpetuity, but it lasts long enough for the author of creative work to enjoy exclusively the rewards of his creative efforts. During the subsistence of copyright in a work, any person desirous of using a copyrighted work is expected to obtain a license from the author of the work.
This is because in accordance with the provisions of section 6 of the Copyright Act, copyright in a work vest a right holder with the exclusive privilege to control the use of the work. However, upon the expiration of copyright, the rights conferred on the right holder in relation to the work, cease to be exclusive and may be exercised by anyone, without the permission of the right holder. At this point, the work is said to have fallen into the public domain.
The Copyright Act sets out the term of copyright protection vested in eligible works under the Copyright Act. Different rules govern the duration and expiration of copyright in literary, artistic or musical works by natural persons and corporate bodies.
In the case of literary, musical or artistic works, except photographs, authored by a natural person, copyright will subsist in the works throughout the lifetime of the author, but will expire 70 years after the end of the year in which the author dies. In the case of literary, musical or artistic works, except photographs, authored by the government, or a corporate body, copyright will subsist in the work for 70 years, and will expire 70 years after the end of the year in which the work was first published.
1 The term of protection granted to literary, musical or artistic works (except photographs) by natural persons is longer than that granted to works by corporate bodies. This is because corporations do not die, they have perpetual succession, so if copyright were to exist throughout the lifetime of corporate bodies, copyright will never expire and society will be deprived of the benefit of utilising creative works, since the right to use the work will lie exclusively with the corporate bodies.
Copyright in cinematograph films and photographs lasts for fifty years; it expires fifty years after the end of the year in which the work was first published.
2 This is also applicable to sound recordings; copyright in sound recordings lasts for 50 years and expires 50 years after the end of the year in which it was first published. Copyright in broadcasts also lasts for 50 years and expires 50 years after the end of the year in which the broadcast first took place.
Copyright subsists in anonymous (orphan works) and pseudonymous literary, musical and artistic works.
People choose to write anonymously or under a pseudonym for various reasons. For example, Eric Arthur Blair wrote under the pseudonym George Orwell. Where the identity of an author is unknown in cases of works published anonymously or under a
pseudonym, it becomes impossible to ascertain the date of death of the author, for the purpose of calculating the duration and expiration of copyright.
It is for this reason that Section 2(3) of the Copyright Act provides that copyright shall subsist in anonymous or pseudonymous works for 70 years, after which it will expire at the end of 70 years from the end of the year in which it was first published. When the author of the work becomes known, the general rule governing the subsistence of copyright in literary, musical or artistic works becomes applicable.
That is, copyright will subsist throughout the lifetime of the author and then expire 70 years after the end of the year in which the author dies.
When copyright expires in a work, it will be futile to transfer, assign or license the right because the rights exercisable by a copyright holder will no longer be exclusive and may be exercised by anyone without authorisation from the copyright owner.
While all economic rights are extinguished upon the expiration of copyright, moral rights in the work continue to
subsist. Moral right comprises the right to claim authorship and the right to seek and maintain the integrity of the work. Moral right lasts perpetually, is inalienable and imprescriptible; it is unaffected by the expiration of copyright.
1. First Schedule to the Copyright Act.
2. First Schedule to the Copyright Act.