On August 2022, a dispute involving the ownership rights to the song “Machala” rocked the Nigerian entertainment industry. Machala was produced in honour of the well-known Afrobeat artist Wizkid. When streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify removed the song from their platforms following Carter Efe and Berri Tiga’s ownership dispute, the controversy reached its peak.
What is most shocking is this isn’t the first ownership scandal to rock Nigeria’s entertainment sector. The ownership of the hit song “African Queen” was the subject of a legal dispute between Tuface and Blackface in 2016. The parties settled after several court appearances, with Tuface giving Blackface royalties from the song. The ownership rights of Mad Melon and Mountain Black, better known as the Danfo Drivers’ “Kpolongo,” were alleged to have been infringed by Teckno’s “jogodo” in 2018. Joeboy received a legal notice of infringement from popular Nigerian musician Asa on September 30, 2022, demanding 300 million Naira for using her musical composition in his song “Contour” without her permission.
Along with the music industry, Nollywood also faces similar challenges. In the movie “Oloture,” seasoned investigative journalist Tobore Ovuorie called out the CEO of Ebonylife Films, Mo Abudu, for violating her undercover sex trafficking investigation’s copyright.
This article uses the Machala dispute as a case study to examine the legal system governing copyrights.
The Legal Framework for Copyright Ownership
The copyright laws in Nigeria do not protect creative concepts that are yet to be produced. The argument asserting ownership over an idea that is yet to be produced would not hold up in court. The Nigerian copyright law grants ownership rights in works for publication, adaptation, reproduction, performance, use, distribution, advertising, renting, and anything else related to the copyright of the owner, within the bounds of the law.
Every entertainment industry revolves around copyright laws. Celebrities profit financially from owning the rights to their creations. An artist’s connection to the commercial benefits of a work of art is its intellectual property.
Nigerian copyright laws allow for the protection of creative works like Machala. The dispute between Carter Efe and Berri Tiga on Machala is unusual because it concerns who owns the work rather than whether or not the work’s rights have been infringed upon. The conflict results from Carter Efe asserting full ownership of the work while Berri Tiga asserts co-ownership of a 30% interest in it. The conundrum is whether or not co-ownership of artistic creation can be allowed under Nigerian law.
Co-ownership and Nigerian law
Co-ownership is provided under Nigerian copyright law. Works of art may be co-owned by two or more persons, either entirely or in part, following Section 51 of the Copyright Act. The co-ownership rights in an artistic work, for example, music, would be shared by the producer, the performer, the writer, the mixer, and all other contributors. Even support staff members like editors, graphic designers, and marketers are included in the Copyright Act’s comparatively broad coverage of the term co-ownership.
However, the law requires a party claiming co-ownership to collaborate on the project. The collaboration must be such that if the party claiming co-ownership’s effort hadn’t been made, the work would not have been successful. Cleaning staff, errand runners, secretaries, assistants, interns, and other non-collaborative employees who worked on the project are not eligible to claim copyright co-ownership under the Copyright Act’s caveat of collaboration.
In the case of Hodgens v. Beckingham, the English Court of Appeal provided an interpretation to a similar provision of Section 51 under English law. The defendant in that case appealed the high court’s decision regarding a co-ownership award made to the claimant for the musical composition “Young at Heart.” The defendant argued that there wasn’t an intention between the parties to create a co-ownership. The English Court ruled that the collaborative efforts put into the work determine co-ownership rather than the intention to create one. Similarly, before awarding Kogan co-ownership in the well-known case of Kogan v. Martin, the court considered Kogan’s skill as a well-known music composer and the contributions she made to the project.
Following the provision of the law, it can be deduced that Berri Tiga can prove co-ownership of the Machala song if he demonstrates a collaborative effort that led to the creation of the work.
The Power of Contracts
When it comes to co-ownership, the law’s broad provision covers everyone who played a crucial role in the project. For instance, if the law were to be followed, the entire cast and crew of a film production could be co-owners for the efforts they put into the success of the work. The good news is that if you have contracts created by each party in the project, the law is suspended and the provisions of the contract will prevail.
A contract drafted and executed by the parties involved will specify their respective interests in and ownership of a work of art. The parties to the work of art can divide their commercial interests through a split sheet or a collaborative agreement. Using a contract, ownership rights may also be granted to persons who did not contribute a collaborative effort to the project. A contract also extends protection to ideas in a work that isn’t ordinarily protected under copyright laws.
The true position of ownership of the Machala song would have been demonstrated by a collaborative agreement or split sheet between Berri Tiga and Carter Efe. Each party’s contribution, requirements, the reward for their work, and ownership stake, if any, would have been outlined in an agreement. The collaboration agreement also specifies how the music will be used moving forward, including licencing, distribution, and public performances.
Over the past two decades, the entertainment sector has expanded to become a multimillion-dollar industry. Because foreign musicians go above and beyond to sign collaboration agreements before engaging in projects with Nigerian musicians, there are no known reports of ownership disputes between Nigerian musicians and these international celebrities, despite the widespread collaboration of Nigerian artists with their foreign counterparts like Beyonce, Akon, Drake, Brandy, Nicki Minaj, and other global musicians.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Split sheets are collaborative contracts that demonstrate each party’s ownership stake and level of participation in the work.
Yes, including comedy, mature content, blogs, and others. For instance, a “split sheet” is required to divide ownership rights, if any, when online comedy skit creators work together.