Getting the Best Out of Your Soundtracks

By Justin Ige
Getting the Best Out of Your Soundtracks
Nigerian movie soundtrack makers have not been privileged to make the best out of their soundtracks. This has not been their fault; if blame is to be apportioned, the music industry would take the blame. More often than not, they get stipends from their work; even when they think they are being properly paid, they get far less than they should have got. This situation is not peculiar to the movie industry alone. This is the situation as far as television series and soaps, and general television and radio programs are concerned. As a matter of fact, many times, makers of music that get used as soundtracks don’t even get paid at all; sometimes, they are not even acknowledged movie and television producers simply choose a song or soundtrack which they like and feel suitable for their production, then proceed to use same as they deem fit and without any recourse to the maker of such music. This situation is so bad that songs and instrumental musical compositions are indiscriminately used for radio jingles and adverts as well.
To compound this most unfortunate situation, the makers of soundtracks themselves fail to take adequate measures to protect their interests and investments legally; they are also very much ignorant of their rights. The truth, however, is that until May 2010, even if they were aware of their rights and they took steps to protect those rights legally, their knowledge and effort may not have been able to amount to much. This is because the rights of makers of soundtracks are basically about the copyright in those works. Before May 2010, the Nigerian government had not taken the bold step of laying the foundation and establishing the enabling environment for the collective administration of copyright. However with the approval of an organization for the copyright administration in Nigeria, that organization being Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), the stage is now set for makers of soundtracks to make the best out of their soundtracks provided they make the effort to do all that is required under the law to protect their interests.
For this purpose, soundtracks would be looked at from two categories and perspectives. First, music may be made specifically as a soundtrack, that is, to specifically express the dramatic moods that a movie or television program may have. Second, music that may not have been made for this purpose, but may have been made rather as an independent song or instrumental composition which has been determined applicable for use as a soundtrack and thereupon used in such manner by movie, radio or television producers. In order to fully understand how a music or soundtrack maker may protect his rights and position himself legally to take full advantage of the new structure the government has put in place, it is important to clearly identify which of these two categories the maker may belong at every relevant time or transaction. This identification, amongst other things, would help to determine his rights under the law, his options and what legal steps he ought to take to serve his best interests.
Some of these possible scenarios would be examined later in some detail, and advisable steps would also be proffered but it is helpful to state at this point that the soundtrack maker, whether he belongs to the former or latter category, would have to be a member of the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) to be able to fully benefit from the efforts of the government and his works. It is only upon taking that first action that other steps may be fully relevant or may have the most and desired impact so as to be able to get the very best out of one’s soundtracks.
To get the best out of soundtracks, the first thing a soundtrack maker would have to do is to join the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON). This is because they are the only organization in Nigeria empowered by law and recognized by the government to collect and distribute royalties for the use of soundtracks to the makers of soundtracks and other persons as may be required. They have the responsibility of collecting these royalties from advertising agencies who may have used these soundtracks in radio and television commercials, movie makers, television and radio producers etc. These mediums are potentially huge sources of income for the makers of soundtracks. Through them, a continuous flow of income could be gotten by a soundtrack maker. The catch, however, is that any maker who does not join COSON would not be able to receive these royalties. However, where COSON receives money on behalf such persons, or receives money that should accrue to such person, COSON would be obligated to keep such monies in a holding account for a duration of seven years during which such person, if he joins COSON, would be able to receive his money. This is the provision of the law. COSON would not be obligated to keep the money and wait for such soundtrack maker for a period longer than the seven years provided for under the law.
Could it then be that once a soundtrack maker joins COSON he has done all that is necessary under the law to be able to fully get the best out of his soundtracks? The answer is no! The maker, as a member of COSON, has the responsibility of updating and informing COSON of his works. He also has the responsibility of informing the organization of all uses of his works, authorized and unauthorized, as far as possible. It is then the responsibility of COSON to proceed in collecting the royalties due from the authorized users and to defend the rights of the soundtrack makers in respect of the unauthorized users. The organization is even empowered to go as far suing the unauthorized user on behalf of the soundtrack maker at absolutely no cost to soundtrack maker.
There are still other things which a soundtrack maker would be expected to do legally to ensure that he gets the very best out of his soundtracks in today’s Nigeria. COSON is bound to honor agreements. Thus the distribution of royalties from the exploitation of soundtracks would be subject to the agreements that the soundtrack makers themselves have entered into with others. There is no gainsaying that these agreements can be of a highly technical nature but it very worthy to note that in the history of the Nigerian entertainment industry, there has been no such time that these agreements have been so important. There has been no such time when careless attitudes in respect of these agreements could have had such terribly damaging results. It is, therefore, important, more than ever for every soundtrack maker to ensure that he properly consults a lawyer before entering OR NOT entering into an agreement or contract in respect of his soundtracks. This is because whether or not a written contract was entered into, the law will take effect based on the contract that was signed or on the fact that no contract was signed. That no contract was signed in itself has legal implications which COSON would be bound to respect, and to collect and distribute royalties in accordance with. This point is not important only to the maker of the soundtrack but also to all users of soundtracks. If makers of soundtracks, movie producers, advertising agencies, and radio and television producers do not treat this point with care, they may find themselves where they would rather not be as far as the use and exploitation of soundtracks is concerned under the Nigerian entertainment law.
Justin Ige can also be reached via or 08023897112. This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace legal counsel. This article had been previously published, in series, in Justin’s Ige blog.

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