A Summary of the Nigerian Law of Copyright


This piece summarises the Nigerian Law of Copyright, with a particular focus on literary and musical works.


According to the Copyright Act of Nigeria, the following shall be eligible for copyright-

(a) literary works; (which includes, irrespective of literary quality, novels, stories and poetical works; plays, stage directions, film scenarios and broadcasting scripts; choreographic works, computer programmes; text-books, treatises, histories, biographies, essays and articles; letters, reports and memoranda; lectures addresses and sermons; and other similar works)

(b) musical works; (which means means any composition, irrespective of musical quality and includes works composed for musical accompaniment.)

(c) artistic works;

(d) cinematograph works;

(e) sound recording; (which means the first fixation of a sequence of sound capable of being perceived aurally and of being reproduced, but does not include a soundtrack associated with a cinematographic film.)

(f) broadcasts.

A literary, musical, or artistic work shall not be eligible for copyright unless-

(a) sufficient effort has been expended on making the work to give it an original character;

(b) the work has been fixed in any definite medium of expression now known or later to be developed, from which it can be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated either directly or with the aid of any machine or device (e.g. on paper, stone, on a computer hard-drive, on a blog-hosting server).


Copyright in a work shall be exclusive right to control the doing in Nigeria of any of the following acts (for literary or musical works):

(i) reproduce the work any material form;

(ii) publish the work;

(iii) perform the work in public;

(iv) produce, reproduce, perform or publish any translation of the work;

(v) make any cinematograph film or a record in respect of the work;

(vi) distribute to the public, for commercial purposes, copies of the work, by way of rental, lease, hire, loan or similar arrangement;

(vii) broadcast or communicate the work to the public by a loud speaker or any other similar device;

(viii) make an adaptation of the work;

(ix) do in relation to a translation or an adaptation of the work, any of the acts specified in relation to the work in sub-paragraphs (I) to (vii) of this paragraph;


Copyright in a sound recording shall be exclusive right to control in Nigeria-

(a) the direct or indirect reproduction, broadcasting or communication to the public of the whole or a substantial part of the recording either in its original form or in any form recognisably derived from the original;

(b) the distribution to the public for commercial purposes of copies of the work by way of rental, lease, hire, loan or similar arrangement.



  1. Usually, the author or composer of the work;
  2. If Person X commissions Person Y to author the work (Y not being X’s employee or apprentice), or if Y makes it in the course of his employment, copyright belongs to Y, unless the contract between X and Y states otherwise.
  3. If the work is made in the course of employment in an organisation that issues newspapers, magazines or other periodicals, copyright belongs to the company, unless contract says otherwise.



Musical Work usually comprises the Musical Composition and Sound Recording.

Musical Composition consists of the music as written, as well as any accompanying words (lyrics). The sound recording, on the other hand, results from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds into a tangible medium that can be played back.

The author of the composition is the writer and/or the lyricist. Author of the sound recording is the composer(s) or the sound engineer, or both. However, it’s possible for the contract between the composer and the sound engineer to state who owns the copyright.


Copyright is infringed by any person who without the licence or authorisation of the owner of the copyright-

(a) does, or cause any other person to do an act, the doing of which is controlled by copyright;

(b) imports into Nigeria, otherwise than for his private or domestic use, any article in respect of which copyright is infringed under paragraph (a) of this subsection;

(c) exhibits in public any article in respect of which copyright is infringed under paragraph (a) of this subsection;

(d) distributes by way of trade, offer for sale, hire or otherwise or for any purpose prejudicial to the owner of the copyright, any article in respect of which copyright is infringed under paragraph (a)of this subsection;

(e) makes or has in his possession, plates, master tapes, machines, equipment or contrivances used for the purpose of making infringed copies of the work;

(f) permits a place of public entertainment or of business to be used for a performance in the public of the work, where the performance constitutes an infringed of the copyright in the work, unless the person permitting the place to be used is not aware, and had no reasonable ground for suspecting that the performance would be an infringement of the copyright;

(g) performs or cause to be performed for the purposes of trade or business or as supporting facility to a trade or business or as supporting facility to a trade or business, any work in which copyright subsists.



  1. Damages – money, punitvely
  2. Injunction – an order of the court
  3. Account – hand over all the income from unlicensed sales/reproduction
  4. Others (as court deems fit).



Type of Work Author Date of Expiration of Copyright
Literary, musical or artistic works other than photographs Known Human Author 70 years after the end of the year in which the author dies.
Known Joint Authors 70 years after the end of the year in which the author dies; ‘death of the author’ taken to refer to the author who last dies.
Anonymous or Pseudonymous Author 70 years after the end of the year in which the work was first published.
Government or Body Corporate 70 years after the end of the year in which the work was first published.
Cinematographic Films & Photographs 50 years after the end of the year in which the work was first published.
Sound recordings 50 years after the end of the year in which the recording was first published.
Broadcasts 50 years after the end of the year in which the broadcast first took place.

The Google Lawsuit and Online Defamation in Nigeria

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

It recently made the news, in Nigeria, that Google has been sued, along with a blogger, for an allegedly libellous post on a blog. If the suit progresses to judgement (it could either be eventually abandoned or settled out of court), it would present a wonderful opportunity for the judiciary to consider if or how the traditional principles of defamation apply to electronic publications. Interesting, as electronic (computer-generated) evidence became admissible in court only in 2011.


Libel (written), together with Slander (it’s oral cousin) together make up the tort referred to as ‘defamation’. People sue for libel or slander when they believe that a statement that has been publicly made about them has injured their reputation. Suits for defamation are the counterfoil to the constitutional guarantee of free speech. Thus, while you can say whatever you like about anyone, that person is entitled to seek compensation against you if you damage his good name and reputation, or lower him in the estimation of right-thinking members of society.


Several cases have been decided on this topic. The following is a collage of how the courts have answered this:

In any action for defamation, it is necessary for the plaintiff to prove the following:

  • Publication of the statement to at least one other person than the plaintiff;
  • That the statement referred to, or by implication referred to the plaintiff; and
  • That the statement was defamatory (injurious to reputation and good name).

“Publication” is the making known of the defamatory matter to some person other than the person of whom it was written (e.g. blogging).

A statement must be false and without lawful justification to be defamatory. Justification means that all the words published and any imputations thereto are true.

In addition to truth/justification, “fair comment” is also a defence to defamation. To successfully invoke “fair comment”, the defendant must prove:

  • The published statement must be based on facts truly stated;
  • It must the honest expression of the writer’s real opinion; and
  • It must not contain insinuations of corrupt or dishonourable motives on the person whose conduct or work is criticised, except the facts warrant such imputations.

Damages for libel are by way of monetary compensation. The court considers the following factors in awarding damages:

  • The conduct of the defendant;
  • The plaintiff’s position and standing in society;
  • The nature of the libel;
  • The mode and extent of the publication; and
  • The absence or refusal of a retraction or apology.



This would be our first strictly e-libel case, if it went to court, so we have no precedents in Nigerian law. When this happens, it is the practice to look to leading commonwealth jurisdictions such as Britain, Australia and America for guidance.

The UK actually has a Defamation Act, which was passed in 1996 (an even more recent one was just passed by the House of Lords and awaits passage at the House of Commons), which states in its very first section:

“1(1) In defamation proceedings a person has a defence if he shows that –

(a)    he was not the author, editor or publisher of the statement complained of;

(b)   he took reasonable care in relation to its publication; and

(c)    he did not know, and had no reason to believe, that what he did caused or contributed to the publication of a defamatory statement.”

“1(3) A person shall not be considered the author, editor or publisher of a statement if he is only involved  – (e) as the operator of or provider of access to a communications system by means of which the statement is transmitted, or made available, by a person over whom he has no effective control.”

It would seem from Section 1(3)(e), just quoted, that this would mean that “hosts” such as Google would have no liability for defamatory material published by users of its services. Indeed, this appears to be the position in the USA. However, in this English decision, the courts decided that the host was jointly liable, though ultimately, not simply for hosting, but for refusing to take the post down after the Plaintiff notified them of the offensive material. The position of liability after being asked to take down offensive posts was recently reinforced in Tamiz vs Google. See this blog post for a more extensive explanation.



The position of the law (abroad, at least) appears to be that a web host will be liable if it refuses to block access to or take down libellous material after it has been notified and required to do so. If this principle were to be followed, then a plaintiff would need to show that he notified Google (or whoever the host is) and that Google allowed the material to continue to be viewed in spite of the notification.

Trademarks 101


A trademark is a logo or a combination of words (or even words plus logo) that distinguishes the goods and services of one person from those of another. Trademarks, over time, also assure consumers of the origin and quality in the goods being purchased and can therefore be very valuable to a business or a proprietor. A registered trademark confers on its owner the right to exclusive use.



Trademarks are registered in respect of distinct classes of goods and services, according to what is known as the Nice Classification. The class in which a trademark is registered depends on the goods or service in connection with which the proprietor intends to use it. As a result, trademarks can be registered in respect of more than one class of goods and/or services. For instance, a business that produces clothes, perfumes and printed material would need to register its trademark in three separate classes.



No. Marks that are offensive or contrary to public policy are likely to be rejected. In addition, marks that are descriptive or generic are also not registrable. An example of a descriptive or generic trademark is “PURE WATER” in respect of bottled water. Because the trademark describes the product, it cannot be said to be distinctive and distinctiveness is the underlying principle here. Permitting “PURE WATER” to be registered as a trademark in this class would also be unfair to other manufacturers of bottled water, as they would not be able to use the words on their labelling.



The trademark to be registered is submitted to the Trademarks Registry (‘the registry’), with application forms and an application fee. The registry acknowledges the application with a ‘Notice of Acknowledgement’ and assigns the application a (temporary) application number. The registry then conducts a search on its register to ensure that the application is not confusingly similar to an existing trademark. If it is determined that the application is too similar or there happen to be other grounds for rejecting the application, a ‘Notice of Refusal’ is issued, stating the registry’s reasons. Otherwise, a ‘Notice of Acceptance’ is issued. If the application is refused and the applicant  is dissatisfied with the grounds of refusal, he can write a letter to the Registrar of Trademarks, requesting a review of the registry’s decision.


Once the application is accepted, the next stage is publication in the trademarks journal. The purpose of the journal is to give existing owners of registered trademarks the opportunity to oppose any application they feel is confusingly similar to their mark. They must do this within 2 months from the date the journal is published. If the application is opposed, opposition proceedings in the form of a mini trial are held to determine whether or not the application should be registered. If the application is not opposed within the stipulated time-frame, the owner can apply (with forms and application fee) for the certificate of registration to be issued.



Registration is valid, in the first instance, for 7 years. Upon renewal, it is thereafter valid for periods of 14 years in perpetuity (i.e. for as long as the owner wishes).




Trademark infringement is a very serious matter. The whole point of intellectual property protection is to ensure that owners enjoy the fruit of their mental exertions. Trademark infringement is effectively making use of (or stealing, actually) the goodwill the public attaches to a trademark in the delivery of the infringer’s goods or services. Examples of infringement abound; Sunny Electronics, for instance, or MackBerry phones.


If an owner suspects another’s infringement, it’s probably best to get in touch with a lawyer as soon as possible. The lawyer will assist the owner with investigating the infringement, gathering evidence of the infringing goods on the market and establishing their source. Then, depending on the nature, gravity or the scale of the infringement, the lawyer will decide if the best strategy would be a mere cease and desist letter or whether instituting legal action, obtaining court orders or conducting a seizure raid with the help of the police is the best line of action.


If a court action is successful, one of the orders the court can make is that the infringer hand over all the profits from the infringing goods to the rightful owner of the trademark, in addition to requiring him to destroy any remaining stocks.



Technically, this isn’t a yes or no question – it depends on one’s long-term strategy for the company or business. If your product is going to be a “one-off” or isn’t in your primary line of work, then you would have to weigh registration costs against (realistic) projected earnings. If, on the other hand, the product or service to be trademarked is the thrust of the business, or you’re running a multifaceted business but want to ensure that consumers realise that the various products are from the same origin, then it is well worth registering one’s trademarks.


Perhaps what should also be borne in mind is that if an owner’s trademark isn’t registered, the owner can only sue the “infringer” for ‘passing off’ and not for infringement, and the remedies for infringement exceed those for passing off.


When I quit my old job to go into solo practice, I looked for every single piece of advice I could find, to be sure I wasn’t being foolish. There was a lot of material on the internet about “flying solo” but it was all from the UK and the USA, which is fine until you remember that many of your colleagues studied law thinking life would be like Matlock after graduation. We all realise, a little too late, that Nigerian legal practice is nothing like Matlock.

I was 6 years post-call at the time and while most colleagues, family and friends thought it was “brave” and “a good decision”, the Partners at my old job advised against it and urged me to reconsider my decision for different reasons. One thought it was premature, another suggested I would be unhappy with the type of work I would “regress” into and yet another predicted that a liquidity crunch was coming and even they were apprehensive of what the year ahead had in store for them. At the time, vanity convinced me they just didn’t want me to leave their employment but, three years later, I see that there was some objectivity in their remarks. The almighty liquidity crunch did come (seemingly to stay) and there has been significantly less M&A/Financing/transactional work than I’d anticipated/had grown accustomed to. Was my departure premature? Not really, but I see what my old boss meant.

My Constitutional Law lecturer, the late Professor JD Ojo, would frequently observe in his classes (and also in his capacity as dean of the faculty) that “the practice of law is for the rich”. We were in our late teens and early twenties at the time and reactions to the statement were varied. Prof Ojo studied for his masters and doctorate degrees at the University of London but wasn’t himself a “wealthy” man by most standards, at least not before the Abdul-Salam/Obasanjo transformation of the wages of academics. Thus, people wondered whether or not he saw the irony in his remark. Others were angry at what they perceived a condemnation to a life in penury, given their humble backgrounds. When it was made mandatory for law students to dress in monochrome with proper footwear and we all protested (at different things, including the cost of new wardrobes), Prof Ojo reminded us “without any apologies” that law is for the rich. I have come to agree with him, in a sense. I will return to this point later.

Given that I haven’t been flying solo for that long yet, is there any advice that I can give to someone considering leaving the nest? Let me try. I won’t get into marketing, networking or business development as I’m assuming every new business owner has some strategy or the other for this at the inception of their business.

1.       When is a good time to quit the old job and fly solo?

People leave big law firms for different reasons. Some are terminated and physically pushed out of the nest. Some grow tired of the monotony. Some find themselves on the cusp of an opportunity and need to be masters of their own time to effectively pursue it. Others are fed up with verbal abuse from their bosses.

It’s important to leave for the right reasons and at the right time. I think the best time to leave is when you can afford to leave: young enough to start a business and, in the event that it fails, still be young enough to be employable; if you have a family, they need to be able to remain comfortable while you find your feet; or you leave when you’re already earning so much money on the side that you’re no longer dependent on your salary (kind of like Lagos and Rivers States re federal allocations).

2.       Perseverance

Unless you’re from a wealthy family, with a wealth of ready connections to people in positions that can dispense quality work, it’s likely your stabilisation period will be fairly tough. This is probably where I agree with my old dean. It is much easier to practice law properly with a safety net(work) of family pedigree and all the perquisites that come with it. Otherwise, you need to keep plugging away at it. Persevere Until Success Happens (*kind of stolen jingo*).

3.       “Dirty Work”

There is a great deal of sleight-of-hand and smoke and mirrors out there. You keep seeing this chap who was called two years after you, yet he’s driving Range Rovers and Jaguars. If he’s not a trust-fund baby, chances are he’s a property wheeler-dealer (big ticket transactions rarely trickle down that low). Now, the purist in me hates showing people round empty houses – that’s an estate agent’s work. But there’s an opportunity cost to being a purist. And, positioning yourself to contend with bigger law firms costs money. Sometimes, therefore, you do what you have to do. Again of course, who you are, who you know and who you’ve come to know are also all very important here.

4.       Be an Authority – Be the “Go-To”

If you’re keen to practice law properly, it’s probably best to be well-renowned in your field of practice before you go solo. Yes, your Partners and the name of their firm attract the work while you’re with them but to survive after you leave them, enough of the big-paying clients had better realise that you’re the brains of the operation. That way, they may come looking for you when you leave the nest.

5.       Keep Improving Yourself/the Business

At some point, if the business doesn’t fail, work will come and you need to have the capacity to deliver at “big law” level if you want to retain the client. Capacity, both in the context of intellectual manpower and of technological hardware. You must personally be ready for that time, as must your business.

6.       Consider Staying in the Nest

The image that hardened my resolve to give self-employment a go was a 10yr+ Senior Associate almost on his knees (figuratively, at least) begging for a bonus from the Partners. And then there was the time a senior lawyer was let go without warning. But for every senior associate that carries on in an antithetical way to your ideal, for every seemingly decent lawyer let go, there are another 3 or 4 who rise through the ranks and eventually make Partner. At the end of the day, there’s no rule that says everyone must own their own law firm. Worth considering.

NB. If any other lawyer flying solo wants to add to this list, please send to rfawole@gmail.com. Contributions will receive proper attribution.


Jurisprudence, in spite of the trepidation in which law students typically hold it, like my undergrad philosophy electives, was a truly fascinating course for me. I marvelled at how regular human beings like us devoted their time to critical thinking to develop ideas that would develop their countries and, unknown to them at the time, shape global appreciation of ideas of law and the state. The notion of the rule of law came about as a result of the exertions of these early thinkers.


When the late Umar Musa Yar’Adua assumed office in 2007, he committed his administration to observing and enshrining the rule of law. The phrase became a mantra during his tenure and especially gained popularity when, unlike his predecessors in office, he immediately ordered security agencies to enforce decisions of election tribunals that delivered adverse rulings against his party. While this was widely celebrated, it led to ‘the rule of law’ becoming synonymous with the government ‘permitting’ adverse tribunal rulings to stand.


The rule of law has since become a one-eyed, one-armed and one-legged invalid. Business has carried on as usual, the occasional motorist reportedly continued to be shot by the police for refusing to part with ‘special tolls’ at check-points until they were recently dismantled, high-profile criminal trials go a less-than-usual way, many agencies exceed the scope of their jurisdiction but as long as election tribunal judgements are respected, rule of law watchers continue to give the country a pass mark.


So, what did the original framers of the expression mean? More than a meaning, the rule of law is a concept of many parts – no one is above the law; no one can be punished by the state except for a breach of the law and in accordance with the law; agreements must be kept; no branch of government is above the law; no public official may act unilaterally or arbitrarily outside the law. It means the law, with all its constituent procedures, is (or at the very least, should be) supreme.


The law is clearly yet to be supreme in Nigeria. It should be impossible for parties, including the government, to unilaterally cancel contracts but this is still complained about fairly regularly. Supremacy of the law should mean that accused persons do not spend three years in detention awaiting trial. It should mean, as well, that powerful politicians and government appointees, no matter how highly placed, obey all administrative and judicial orders; seeking orders from the courts to restrain law enforcement agencies from carrying out their statutory and constitutional functions should be thoroughly decried. It should also mean that the law is predictable and any changes to it are not done haphazardly – unlike here in Nigeria where “laws” or regulations change on the whim of the administrative officer in charge, without notice to the public or actual publication and gazetting the new regulations (see a previous post on that here).


The rule of law being supreme also means, however, with relevance to recent events that the law is allowed to take its due course. Currently, the public is baying for the blood of everyone indicted in the report of the Ad Hoc Committee (of the House of Representatives) on the administration of fuel subsidy in Nigeria. Everyone is frustrated at the Attorney-General’s suggestion that prosecutions cannot commence straightaway. The truth, however, is that the proper procedure is for the House to forward its conclusions to the police and other relevant law-enforcement agencies for further investigation. As things stand, if charges are brought based on the House report alone, every single person “fingered” WILL be acquitted. The investigative bodies must be given time to compile evidence on which convictions can be obtained safely (ie that appellate courts will be hard pressed to find grounds for reversal). The court of public opinion and the courts of law are two entirely different propositions and while many “criminals” have been convicted largely on hearsay in the former, securing convictions in the latter is a more technical, more skilled, endeavour.


Thus, while it is entirely proper for the public to expect prosecutions it is important that we do not, in our frenzied frustrations with the status quo do more damage than good. The true test of how supreme a belief or concept is held is adherence to it even when doing so is not to one’s immediate advantage. If it is the consensus that upholding the rule of law is integral to our country’s prosperity, we cannot make exceptions for when it should be applied.