By Justin Ige
An article, published in one of the media some weeks ago, had Terry G rips off yet another artiste as its title. This immediately suggests that one of the reigning Nigerian music artistes Terry G, has taken to stealing – stealing from fellow artistes! The questions that immediately come to the mind of the readers are Terry G, a thief? , why? Could this be the truth? Who are his victims? The article reported that an artiste, who is just one of Terry G’s victims, Ditty blaq, recently announced his disgust at Terry G for using a beat he sold to him for N150, 000:00. He expressed more disgust that Terry G showed no remorse, made no refunds and failed totally to correct the wrong.
That is the case against Terry G. Is he guilty? Of course, all we have before us are mere accusations, the substance of which has not been determined. It is however worthy of note that Terry G made a somewhat confession. The beat in question is that used for Terry G’s song, street madness. In the song, interestingly, Terry G admits guilt, as he says, the person weh geti dis beat eh, dem dey for outside eh. That’s a whole lot of confidence, one might say. We have no further responses from Terry G on these accusations and as such, we are inadequately armed with relevant facts to be able to take any conclusive stands on who is right and who is not. This being that it is not uncommon for artistes to make untrue statements in their songs; fancy statements delivered with swagger is what counts and not the truth of those statements. Also, Terry G may think and say he is guilty and be wrong about it for lack of information. However, we are in a position to make some valid deductions and provide useful opinion. The information at our disposal and knowledge of the Nigerian music industry practices and customs will be placed against the provisions of the law to do this but in so doing, a basic assumption would have to be made, that the accusations are true.
It is necessary to mention at this point that the aim of this article is not to determine the guilt of Terry G but rather to examine the issues that the accusations bring to the fore and to suggest methods which industry practitioners may take under the law to protect themselves. Issues the accusations bother on include the following:
- Artiste and music producer transactions in Nigeria (customs)
- Legal character of a beat
- Beat ownership and transfer
- Post-transfer rights, limitations and liabilities
It is common practice among the younger Nigerian pop musicians, generally referred to as the Nigerian hip-hop artistes, the category an artiste like Terry G falls into, to simply walk up to a music producer or beat maker, the latter being a more accurate description for most instances, and buy a beat. Simply put in a dramatic form, artiste says, Mr. Producer, I wan buy beat. Which ones dey ground? This he says, absolutely unaware of the nature of the legal transaction he just proposed. Mr. Producer makes a couple of beats available for listening. The artiste and often times his friends too do some listening and the preferred beats are chosen and paid for. Mr. Producer then makes the beats available in stereo and multi-track formats. Then the artiste says to himself, I have just bought some beats, I am on my way to becoming a star.
The beat is treated as if it were a simple common commodity. A beat, the subject of this kind of transaction, where an artiste simply walks up to a beat maker or buyer, requests for a beat, listens to available ones, and buys, is not a common commodity. It is intellectual property and it is a copyrighted work. Such beat differs from common or simple commodities because the law provides how such may be transferred. It therefore follows that if that procedure is not followed as in the example above, the artiste has not legally bought any beats. It also follows that if Ditty blaq and other Terry G victims had similar transactions as in the above example and failed to follow the provisions of the law, then they did not legally buy the beats from Terry G. It is actually that simple. Section 1(2) of the Copyright Act, 1988 provides as follows:
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 a 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.
A beat is without doubt a musical work and it fulfills the above conditions provided by law as the producer did put a lot of effort, energy and creativity into bringing it to existence. The beat is also burnt on a compact disk (CD), which is a definite medium of expression from which the beat can be perceived, reproduced and communicated, hence the conclusion that the character of a beat is that of a copyrighted work and not a common commodity. In order to legally sell or buy a beat, section 11(3) of the same Act provides: No assignment (that is, sale) of copyright and no exclusive license to do an act, the doing of which is controlled by copyright, shall have effect unless it is in writing.
The implication of this provision is that for a sale of beat transaction to be legally effective, it must be in writing. All possible legal implications and copyright control as it relates to the needs and intentions of both the producer and artiste need be considered in the preparation of such a document. The effect of failing to do this can be far reaching. It is also important to note that it is only the owner of a beat that can sell it. Kind of obvious, one would say; but then, who is the owner? Ownership vests in the author, the author being the beat maker. A legally valid purchaser of a beat may also sell or deal with a beat in several other ways as provided by the law.
After the transfer of a beat through sale or other alternatives provided by law, the rights, liabilities and limitations of the producer and artiste or as the case may be largely depends on their agreement as contained in the written document. In other words, the written document, being the instrument of transfer will determine what either party may or may not do with the beat after transfer is completed.
Should either party fail to keep within what he is authorized to do with the beat, there are options available to the aggrieved party to make good his loss. These options are however very dependent on the facts of each case and may include filing a case in court to prevent the use of the beat in an undesirable way, to enforce one’s legal right over the beat or to demand for one’s legal entitlements arising from the use of the beat.
Justin Ige can also be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org or 08023897112. This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace legal counsel. First written and published online on29 January2010.