5 Things musicians should keep in mind to avoid copyright violations.

As an entertainment lawyer in Nigeria, I have to deal with a lot of Intellectual Property and copyright law issues on behalf of artists and musicians in Nigeria.  It is common knowledge among the musician community that if you can just play G, C, and D chords on the guitar, you can perform hundreds of hit songs. Several musicians have found themselves at the centre of controversy because they only play the same three chords again and again. To be quite honest, the term “three-chord” is almost like a genre unto itself. As there are only a finite number of discrete notes, as well as a restricted number of chord progressions, musicians have a certain quantity of notes to work with. Hence copyright violation can creep in, sometimes, even unknowingly.

Copyright disputes are time-consuming and expensive. So, what can musicians do to ensure that copyright is not violated?

1. Know what constitutes a copyright violation

It is important that you know what is copyright and when it is violated. There is a widespread misconception that copyright laws are the same as trademarks, patents, and licenses. Copyrights are quite easy to get and to breach, whether you want to or not. Because the Copyright Act and the Berne Convention have similar restrictions, learning about the copyright law and the Berne Convention is a smart first step.

2. Use only your original work

Copyright lawyers in Nigeria usually concur to the statement that “If it isn’t yours, do not use it.” The basic principle of copyright laws is based on the idea that permission should be obtained from the author, owner, or holder of the copyrighted item. You aren’t permitted to utilize someone else’s work unless you are the original author. The fact is, whether or not there is a copyright sign attached to a work has no bearing, you should only be using your own original work and you would know yourself if you have copied from another song or another musician.

3. Register your copyright

While copyright protection is automatically granted to the author as soon as the work is created, crucial extra advantages and protections are granted to the author if the work is registered with the Copyright Office. In many countries, Copyright registration makes authors eligible to claim statutory damages and lawyers’ costs if someone misuses their work without authorization. This requirement for registration in order to enforce rights, unlike in the United States, is actually not the case in Nigeria, though many presume so. The closest thing to that in Nigeria is copyright notification, which neither confers prima facie proof nor offers any other real legal benefits

4. The possibility of using notes from other songs

Ask any copyright lawyer in Nigeria and you are likely to get a response that as a general rule, in case you end up using melodies or lyrics from other songs, there are no set limits regarding the number of phrases and melodies that may be used from another musician’s song under Nigerian copyright law. While music fans and musicians naturally inspire one another, it is possible to cross the line from inspiration to plagiarism. Generally, a song you make by using your own talent, labour, judgment, and effort is deemed original and hence is protected by copyright. The song has to be fixed in writing or in some other permanent form to be preserved.

There is no specific measure for assessing originality when it comes to music; instead, the number of notes utilized in a song is a factor to consider. Quality is important, not quantity. If the music has just a few notes, it’s protected by copyright. Also, the concept of copyright law protects just the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. You may write lyrics on two people being in love., as long as your song is considerably distinct from another artist singing about love.

5. Access and Substantial Similarity

Your work should not have substantial similarity to the work of another musician. There are no laws that specify a precise number of notes, which means there are no restrictions on the duration of an original song’s composition. The Copyright Law of Nigeria considers utilizing another’s music to be copyright infringement if the work has been copied ‘whole or in part, in any significant way. Because these words have various definitions, each instance is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The emphasis of the court is almost always on the quality of the pieces, rather than the quantity. And in most cases, it does not matter how much was stolen or under what conditions. If you want to learn more about utilizing someone else’s work, go here.

Creative Legal advises several musicians and artists on copyright law. If you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact us

Disclaimer: Please note that at no point in time should any of the blogs including this one be construed as legal advice and you are not to act on the content of this blog. For any legal advice please contact us

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