Between Copyright And 'copyleft'

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There is a development in the world of copyright and I think it is important that Intellectual Property (IP) owners in Nigeria (particularly audio-visual content owners) be in the know and indeed be prepared to, at all times stand firmly on the side of copyright rather than ignorantly allowing themselves to be railroaded into queuing behind what can best be described as 'copyleft.'

Copyleft is perhaps the best way to describe the general political drift of skepticism or hostility regarding copyright. There is a group today canvassing for what they call the 'Development Agenda' - i.e. the main opponents to a robust copyright. Reports have it that this movement can be observed in the United States of America, the European Union, Brazil and other countries.

This so-called development agenda movement tends to be the result of plethora of lobbying backed up by influential groups who purport to represent the interest of the civil society. These groups have moralized the debate about copyright legislation in such a way as to characterize it as an unfair monopoly that locks away access to content and serve the bottom line interests of large developed world media conglomerates.

Of course, this accusation ignores the mere fact that there are thousands of creative industry enterprises all over the developing world who need and want the highest possible level of rights' protection in order to be able to make their businesses sustainable through the commercial exploitation of intellectual property rights. Nollywood falls within this category.

These are the ones who truly have the interest of the consumer at heart; not those lobby groups who claim that bodies fighting for IP rights want to make access to content more difficult. Certainly not these lobby groups who believe that content should be free and therefore have contempt for the risk-taking and spirit of enterprise of key financiers in Nollywood (Producers, Executive Producers and Distributors/Marketers).

I am raising this early red flag because there was a time when Nigeria delegation at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) was more moderate about copyright reforms - it supported the "Development Agenda" aims which included a drive to change the balance of copyright law and increase exceptions to copyright for the benefit of education and access to knowledge, etc, but it was also open to a pro-copyright discourse from creative industries.

Today, however, the story is different. The Nigerian government through the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) seems to have decided to gain in leadership on the group gathering countries from Africa, if not the countries forming the development agenda.

Information at my disposal indicates that there was a manifest and marked hardening of Nigeria's position at a recent Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) at WIPO. One of Nigeria's delegates to the forum, Dr. Ruth Okedeji who works for the US University of Minnesota, was said to be developing copyleft arguments with a lot of talents.

Nigeria seem to have taken the leadership role in asking for mandatory exceptions outside the boundaries of the Three-Steps-Test that is enshrined in the existing copyright framework and ensures, in particular, that exceptions should only be introduced if they would not demonstrably damage the economic interests of rights owners. This is surprising and worrying because Nigeria agreed to support more moderate language in the Audiovisual Performances Treaty concluded last June in Beijing, China.

Whatever happens, Nigeria and indeed the African group is pivotal in the power play between the proponents of copyright and copyleft by contributing with a firm but balanced voice over the past years. Any curious move, radicalism or a little to the left by this group at this stage might make the job of fighters for IP rights at WIPO more challenging than it is today.

Intellectual Property owners in Nollywood want copyright and not copyleft. This is one message Dr. Okedeji, NCC and other Nigerian delegates at international copyright fora should always keep in mind at all times. Nigeria: Between Copyright And'copyleft'
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