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A day before a hurriedly scheduled public hearing by the Nigerian Senate to discuss a new Executive Bill to replace Nigeria’s current copyright law, Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), the nation’s biggest copyright collective management organization, has written to the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmed Lawan, complaining about the process and procedure of trying to pass the bill.
In the four-page letter signed by the COSON Chairman and former President of PMAN, Chief Tony Okoroji, COSON said that it is very clear that the Senate is being stampeded to pass a very dangerous bill infested with many bad and anti-democratic provisions that will stifle the growth of creativity in Nigeria and damage the Nigerian economy going forward.
According to the letter, the bill if passed into law, will turn Nigerian musicians, authors, film makers, computer programmers, publishers and the many creatives who depend on a good copyright system into the slaves of a few civil servants at the Nigerian Copyright Commission.
Said COSON “If Section 39 of the bill becomes law, in a supposed democracy, no copyright owner in Nigeria who negotiates or grants a licence for the use of his work, will be able to exercise his constitutional right of going to court anymore to enforce his rights, except he gets the permission of civil servants at the Nigerian Copyright Commission!”
Mentioning several sections of the bill, COSON wrote, “there are countless provisions in the bill giving the Nigerian Copyright Commission and its personnel such powers and privileges not possessed by any other government agency. A lot of these provisions are not in line with diverse public service rules. Indeed, in so many situations, the Nigerian Copyright Commission has put itself in the place of the owners of copyright to take decisions on behalf of the copyright owners which decisions are business decisions ordinarily taken by the owners of copyright or their agents.”
According to COSON, the commission neither has the competence, the staff, the technology, the lack of bias and has not shown over time that it has the slightest capacity to exercise the powers it is grabbing and the result will be utter confusion and frustration.
The letter said that under Section 104 (2), no one can bring any action against the Commission or any member of its staff on any matter whatsoever, whether private or official, except a three-month written notice of intention to commence the suit is served upon the Commission by the intending plaintiff or his agent. According to COSON, no government official or even any of Nigeria’s senators enjoys such privilege or protection.
Furthermore, the letter says that under Section 100 of the bill, if any citizen gets a judgment against the Commission, no execution or attachment of process can be issued against the Commission, unless prior to such execution, not less than three months’ notice of the intention to execute or attach has been given to the Commission.
COSON in the letter complained that it received for the first time by e-mail the 88-page document with 109 sections only three working days before the scheduled Public Hearing which incidentally is holding on October 12, the same day that COSON is holding a major event in Lagos to celebrate the life and times of Prof (Sir) Victor Uwaifo, one of Nigeria’s greatest creative geniuses of all times, who died on August 28 and will be buried this week.
The letter also pointed out that under Section 87 of the bill, Nigeria will start a new regime of the registration of copyright, which COSON says is “a totally unnecessary and anachronistic adventure and a very bad move”.
COSON adds that reading through the document, it is clear that it was drafted by Civil Servants with definite self-serving agenda and academics with very little copyright industry experience. According to the letter, “the contradictions and conflicts in the document are fundamental and not such that can be repaired by any panel beating. Indeed, the Head of Service of the Federation needs to look at the document to expunge the many anti-Public Service proposals. A very transparent process in which the true stakeholders are on the table needs to be commenced if the intent is not to suppress Nigeria’s creative output and kill our copyright industries”
In conclusion COSON wrote: “for the good of the Nigerian nation and posterity and not to make Nigeria the laughingstock of the world, the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is requested not to put its imprimatur on the terrible piece of legislation known as the ‘Executive Copyright Bill’”.