Intellectual property: Are Nigeria’s top artistes copying wrongly?



Much as stakeholders in the Nigerian music industry decry the plague of piracy and its ugly impact on their careers, they apparently have more than the external enemies to contend with. A recent investigation shows that more should be done about the ‘colleagues within’ by raising awareness amongst the artists on what actually constitutes copyright infringement. This is coming to the fore with the increasing number of litigations against some top Nigerian artists which are overt consequences of sampling lyrics, melodies and beats from previous recordings without permission, a gross case of intellectual property theft.

Earlier, this ugly trend had only elicited social media and talk show accusations, but lately, there are daring moves to bring erring music artists to justice through legal options.

A litany of instances to buttress how fierce this trend is becoming in the Nigerian music space abound. On November 5, 2019, a case filed by Olumuyiwa Danladi aka Danny Young, against Tiwatope Savage opened hearing following allegations of copyrights infringement. The suit with number: FHC/L/CS/230/2019 before Justice Mohammed Liman, has hip-hop artist, Danny Young asking for N205m ($570,000) from Tiwa Savage and her former label, Mavin Records, for using portions of his song, titled ‘One’, without lawful authorisation. The suit had been filed in February, 2019 but had not got a definitive hearing date until last month.

A similar matter is also raging between Sir Victor Uwaifo, a renowned highlife music artist and Simisola Ogunleye, (Simi). They are in the court at the moment at the instance of lawyers from Uwaifo, who are accusing the singer of violating his intellectual property, ‘Joromi’. Uwaifo is suing Simi for N50m ($140,000).

Although he (Uwaifo) had called out Simi in 2018 concerning the perceived infringement, no bold moves came from the accused party in terms of atonement, which prompted his legal team to seek redress in a court of law. Uwaifo said: “We’re in court already. I sued her at the Federal High Court for N50 million. They will be coming to court. ‘Joromi’ is a franchise. The name never existed before. Benin people don’t have ‘J’ in their language. If any started with ‘J’ in Benin, then it is fake. All consonant words start with vowel sounds. For example, if I use the trademark of one of these soft drinks, it is wrong. So Simi is in trouble”. ‘Joromi’, a hit highlife track in the 1970s by Victor Uwaifo has been credited as one of the Top 20 Best Songs Ever in Nigeria.

Rapper Zaaki Azzay had similar complaints about Mr. Eazi and Sarkodie; he accused both of them of infringing on his copyright for his 1996 hit song, ‘Marry Am’. Calling out the duo, following the release of their song, ‘Na You’, Azzay wrote: “Hello @Sarkodie & @MrEazi , this is to let you know that my song ‘Marry Am’ has been lifted in your newly released single ‘Na You’. I released the monster hit way back in 1996, and I want to believe that you guys should know the consequences of copyright infringements. This is a massive violation of my musical copyright dues and the illegal exploitation of my intellectual property as I haven’t been contacted for permission/approval for the lyrics of my song to be used. It’s high time African artists woke up to know that copyrights violations/infringements is stealing.”

Of course, the industry is aware of other copyright infringement allegations against big artistes like 2Baba (by Black Face regarding ‘African Queen’), Wiz Kid/Banky W (by Black Face regarding ‘Slow Whine’), Tekno (by Mad Melon/Mountain Black regarding ‘Kpolongo’) and P-Square (by Waje and Steph-Nora Okere as regards ‘Do Me’ and ‘Jeje’ respectively).

Investigations however show that only a few of these perceived infringements get really controversial, which is toxic to the industry. Many are ignored. For instance, Kiss Daniel’s song, ‘No Do’ has beats sampled from Jide Obi’s theme song for ‘Tales by the Moonlight’, a popular children’s television drama for the Nigerian Television Authority in the mid 1980s. A lawyer, Al-Ameen Sulyman, believes this trend is widespread in the Nigerian music industry. According to him: “A closer look shows that several hit songs contain samples, Lagbaja’s ‘Gra Gra’was sampled in Davido’s ‘If’; Kojo Funds and Abra Cadabra’s ‘Dun Talking’in Davido’s ‘Fall’; Wizkid’s ‘Caro’ in Yemi Alade’s ‘Johnny’, the sampling of chords and interpolation of the lyrics of Starboy Nathan’s ‘Come into My Room’ by P-Square in ‘Temptation’This extends to music videos too with several video directors recycling swiped ideas while shooting music videos for different artists.”

Sometimes, Nigerian artists also sample beats or lyrics from their foreign counterparts: Banky W did it with Rihanna’s hit song ‘Umbrella’, for his ‘Ebute Metta’ song in 2007; Omawunmi had done same with Adele’s ‘Hello’.

In reality, there is nothing wrong in being inspired by an earlier recording so long as it is authorised by the real owners, which is why the concerned bodies must heighten their sensitisation to let artists, know that such unauthorised copying amounts to intellectual property violation. The Copyright Society of Nigeria, COSON, says they have been doing so much in this regards in spite of the latest litigations in the music industry. Chinedu Chukwuji, COSON’s general manager said: “We have always organised a COSON Stakeholders’ Forum. The forum is an enlightenment platform to educate and sensitise rights owners like the songwriters, performers, musicians, record labels, publishers and everyone with interest in the music business on the subject of Copyright and Music Business. We continue to use the platform to also reach out to users of musical works and sound recording across the country”.

Beyond sensitisation, so much ought to be done in the area of strengthening the judicial institutions to bring culprits to book in a timely fashion. This will definitely deter future offenders. For Danny Young to file a suit in February 2019 and wait for 9 months for the case to be mentioned in court, portrays the system as weak and incapable of administering a redress.