A copyright is a legal right that grants the creator of an original work exclusive right to its use and distribution, usually for a limited time.

It is also the exclusive right granted by a statute to an author (i.e., an artist, writer, publisher, musician, performer, photographer, architect, film maker, and sculptor) of certain works to control the doing of some acts in relation to the work. However these exclusive rights are not absolute: they are subject to certain limitations.

In Nigeria, copyright is governed by the Copyright Act, and the body charged with the enforcement and protection of copyright is the Nigerian Copyright Commission.


Copyright protects original creations in the literary and artistic fields, which are fixed in medium from which they can be reproduced, or otherwise communicated. Examples of works protected include;

  1. Artistic Work: g. Visual Art Paintings, Drawings, Maps, Plans, Pictures, Woodcuts, Works of Architecture, Sculpture, Craftsmanship. Etc.
  2. Sound Recording.
  3. Literary Works.
  4. Musical Works.
  5. Cinematography Works.

However, Titles, Ideas, Concepts, Procedures, Methods or Things of similar nature are not protected by Copyright.

Also, for a work to be eligible for protection, the work must be sufficiently original, and must be in a form which is expressed. e.g. in writing, a painting, a musical recording etc. Therefore, you cannot have copyright protection over something in your head that has not been expressed. Originality and expression are the key pillars for eligibility.


The creator of a copyright work, usually referred to as the “author” of the work owns the copyright in the work in the first instance. However, the author is at liberty to transfer his rights to a third party.

In such a case, the person who has obtained the right by transfer or other legal means becomes the owner of copyright.


Normally, each work should have its own copyright registration. However, someone may register works as a collection on one copyright with one title for the entire collection, as in the case of a music album with several songs.  A movie in parts will be treated as separate works.


It should be noted that registering for copyright is not a precondition for protection. You do not have to register your copyright. It subsists automatically in a work from the moment the work is created.

However the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) has established a voluntary copyright registration scheme, designed to enable authors and right owners notify the Commission of the creation and existence of a work.

The NCC justifies the establishment of this scheme based on the Following benefits:

  1. It provides an independent source of verifying data relating to a work or its author to the general public.
  2. The acknowledgement certificate issued provides prima facie evidence of the facts shown on it.
  3. It provides a depository for preserving original copies of works notified.
  4. The information and data contained in the Notification data base offers reliable rights management information to members of the public and prospective licensees to the work.

In the case of physical submission, someone can submit application directly through an agent for registration to any office of the Commission’s office nationwide. You will need to submit to the Commission, a completed registration form, along with copies of the work, and evidence of payment of the prescribed fee.


Copyright protection is essentially territorial in nature. By virtue of membership of certain international copyright treaties and conventions, works of Nigerian citizens enjoy protection in territories of member countries of such treaties to which Nigeria is a party, including the Berne Convention.

You may wish to check the list of countries, which are signatories to the Berne Convention.



The rights which an author or copyright owner enjoys in a work include the right to be acknowledged in any use made of his work and also to prevent any derogatory use; alteration; distortion or mutilation of same (referred to as moral rights).

More importantly, the author enjoys the right to earn money from his work by determining the condition under which the work may be commercially used by a third party (economic rights).

An author whose music is copyrighted can prohibit or authorize the following acts;

  1. The reproduction of the work in various forms such as printed publication, photocopying or making a recording in any media.
  2. The public performance of work such as staging a play in a theatre.
  3. The recording of work in the form of compact disks, cassettes, videotapes, etc.
  4. The broadcasting of the work by radio, cable or satellite.
  5. The translation of the work into other languages or its adaptation such as from a novel to a screenplay.
  6. The distribution of the work commercially by way of sales, hiring or rental.

The rights enjoyed by the owner of Copyright are limited. The author of a work does not own his Copyright indefinitely.

The author of a literary, artistic or musical work enjoys copyright throughout his lifetime and for 70 years after his death.

In the case of films, sound recordings, performances etc., the owner enjoys Copyright for 50 years from the time the work was first published. The work goes to the public domain when the term of protection expires and third parties are allowed free use of it.


Copyrights are conferred on works whose author or in the case of a work of a joint authorship, any of the author is a citizen of Nigeria or domiciled in Nigeria or a body corporate incorporated under the laws of Nigeria.

Copyrights are also conferred on works arising from international agreements where at the date of first publication, one of the authors is a Nigerian citizen or domiciled in Nigeria; or published in a country that is a party to an obligation in a treaty or agreement in which Nigeria is a party as well as works published by United Nations Organizations or any of its specialized agencies, African Union and the Economic Communities of West African States.

The effect of this is that where sufficient effort has been expended on making the work to give it an original character, it becomes the sole property of the Owner. It is only the Owner that can transmit the work by testamentary disposition or by operation of law.

The Owner has an exclusive right over the work and it is unlawful for any other person to reproduce, publish, translate, perform in public, make, rent, lease, hire, broadcast, adapt or tamper with the work without the Owner’s licence or assignment.


The owners of works whose copyrights have been infringed upon may demand that the person infringing their copyrights stop the infringement, deliver all original and copies of the infringed work to them and pay compensation for use of their work.

They may also request that the person infringing their work enter into an agreement with them for use of their work in future.

If the person infringing the work ignores the owner or fails to adequately compensate him for use of his work, the owner may commence an action at the Federal High Court where the infringement occurred to seek damages for infringement of his copyrights and injunction restraining the person from continuing his acts of infringement.


Copyright is the exclusive right granted by a statute to an author (i.e., an artist, writer, publisher, musician, performer, photographer, architect, film maker, and sculptor) of certain works to control the doing of some acts in relation to the said work.

Infringement of Copyright is rampant in Nigeria today because owners of artistic and literary works are more interested in creating the works without ensuring that they reap maximum reward for their copyrights over the works.

It is therefore important for copyrights’ owners to duly register their works in other to seek adequate remuneration for use of their works and compensation for infringement of their copyrights.

Written by Intellectual Property Law Unit as Resolution Law Firm

Tel:       +2348099223322

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