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Bill to repeal 22-year-old Copyright Act scales second reading in Senate

By Sanni Onogu, Abuja

The Senate on Tuesday passed for second reading a Bill which seeks to strengthen the copy rights administration in Nigeria and to provide penalties to serve as deterrent.

The Bill titled: “Copyright Act repeal and re-enactment Bill, 2021 and sponsored by Senator Mukhail Adetokunbo Abiru (Lagos East), seeks holistic review of the policy and legal framework for copyright protection in Nigeria.

Abiru in his lead debate, said the Bill seeks, among others, to bring the Copyright Act in tandem with current realities and to achieve the following:

“Strengthen the copyright regime in Nigeria to enhance the competitiveness of its creative industries in a digital and knowledge-based global economy.

“Effectively protect the rights of authors to ensure just rewards and recognition for their intellectual efforts while also providing appropriate limitations and exceptions to guarantee access to creative works, encourage cultural interchange and advance public welfare.

“Facilitate Nigeria’s compliance with obligations arising from relevant international copyright treaties; and

“Enhance the capacity of the Nigerian Copyright Commission for effective administration and enforcement of the provisions of the Copyright Act.”

He said that the amendments being sought would make the law more friendly, offer a dispute resolution mechanism, increase the penalties for copyright infringement and make online/digital reproduction an infringement.

He added that the amendment would expand the bundle of rights of copyright holders, make dealing in equipment that circumvent “anti-copying technology” an offence and expand customs notice prohibition against the importation of infringing copies of literary, dramatic and musical works to infringing copies of all other works.

He said it would also prohibit exporting of infringing works and enables internet and telecommunication service providers (ISPs) to remove or disable access to infringing content or links to for ISPs to have rights to deal with recalcitrant offenders on their sites and platforms.

Abiru noted that Nigerian creative industries such as Nollywood and broadcasting, music, fashion, book publishing, art and Nigeria’s emerging software and Apps industry, have been emaciated by a weak Copyright Act, 1988 (as amended).

Since the coming into force of the Decree, according to him, Nigeria has not had a holistic review of its laws for copyright protection.

He lamented that many Nigerian businesses have disappeared and many Nigerian creators have died because of the harm occasioned by piracy and the weak mechanisms offered by the existing legal framework and successive government’s inability to sufficiently fund the Nigerian Copyright Commission.

Senator Abiru added: “This is in spite of the fact that many substantial advances have been made in the industry in Nigeria and globally.

“Time and again, stakeholders in the Nigerian copyright community have called for the amendment of the copyright law in line with new technologies and stipulate deterrent penalties but there has been no follow up action in terms of amendments to the Copyright Act 1988 which was promulgated in 1999, under the military regime and more than 22 years ago.

“More significantly, the emergence of digital technologies revolutionized the creative economy as production and dissemination of creative works became more accessible and lent themselves to global exploitation beyond national boundaries.

“The contribution of Nigeria’s creative and innovative industries is significant. They offer employment, contribute to our GDP and serve as good brand ambassadors for Nigeria.

“The international community has acknowledged the quality Nigerian creative talents through international nominations and awards such as Oscars and Grammys.

“Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg’s visit to Nigeria sometime back underscores the potentials of Nigeria’s software industries.

“Nigeria’s sports industry cannot grow if broadcast rights and other copyright and intellectual property rights are not promoted.

“Piracy of Nigerian creatives has devastated businesses, harmed consumers and acted as a disincentive to foreign direct investments.”

The Lagos East lawmaker insisted that for any nation to progress economically, it must not play down the development of its intellectual resources.

“The only way to ensure the protection of original intellectual works is by tightening the legal provisions for the safeguard of copyright products and especially, liberalizing provisions in the extant copyright laws of the country to be able to accommodate products derived from the rapidly growing technology in the world.

“In Nigeria, the position of the country as Africa’s largest market for copyrighted works has given us a bad name in the international community as the major hub of the global digital and software piracy. The passage of this Bill into law will correct this,” he said.

Senators in their contributions supported the Bill.

The lawmakers approved that the Bill be read a second time when it was put to voice vote by Senate President Ahmad Lawan.

Lawan thereafter referred the Bill to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters for further legislative work and to report back to plenary in four weeks.

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