Nigerians reacted to the news that Kendrick Lamar was being sued by Bill Withers for a copyright infringement in the same way most Lagosians react to attacks by Boko Haram up north –
Wetin consine us?
However, if our artistes are going to continue to grow and bridge the musical divide between Nigeria and the rest of the world, then cases such as this could affect the way your favorite artistes create music in the coming years.
What’s the case?
Bill Withers, probably most famous for his hit song “Ain’t no Sunshine”, is alleging that KDot used another one of his songs “Don’t You Want To Stay” without permission. The song being examined in the case is Kendrick’s “I Do This”.
What do you think?
I don’t think it can be disputed that Kendrick took significant portions of Bill’s song to make his but I’m no lawyer, so I can’t explain what constitutes a breach and what doesn’t. However, I want to use small experience, Ojoro Counsel and common sense to dispel three myths that critics like me often base our copyrights infringement arguments upon.
The first is that the passage of time protects the guilty – Kendrick released his song in 2009, Bill released his in 1975 but it was well within his rights to file this lawsuit last week. Under US law, a piece of intellectual property is protected from the moment of its creation to the author’s death plus an additional 70 years. Copyright laws in Nigeria aren’t radically different in duration, they protect an author for 50 years after his/her death. This is important because in the case of a P Square, for instance, who have been accused of copyright offences since time immemorial, that leaves ample time for possible breaches to be investigated in the future.
The second is that if you release the music for free, then you can do with it as you please and avoid a lawsuit. This myth is built loosely around the principle of fair dealing (fair use) which is also present in the Nigerian Copyright Act and make exceptions for the scenarios where intellectually property can be reused. It covers scenarios such research, private use, criticism or review or the reporting of current events, basically non-commercial stuff. However, it is important to note that Kendrick didn’t release the Kendrick Lamar EP for sale and he still got sued!
The truth is that the fair dealing principle in any country can be very tricky when it comes to application. So while Kendrick didn’t benefit directly from the sale of Bill’s intellectual property, he benefited indirectly by performing the song at paid events and by leveraging the popularity of Bill’s music to build his own fan base, and that fan base in turn bought Mr. Lamar’s commercially released music – Section.80, good kid, m.A.A.d city, To Pimp a Butterfly and untitled unmastered. A judge will now have to decide whether or not Mr. Lamar committed a crime, which becomes more cut and dry if Kendrick didn’t acknowledge Bill’s work to begin with.
The third is that multinational publishing companies and international IP lawyers are not interested in what’s going on in Nigeria. That’s also untrue but please permit me to spend some time here.
If you believe what you read, then D’banj signed a bunch of record deals in 2012, from RCA/Sony Music to Island Def Jam/Universal to Mercury Records, UK. However, D’banj was ahead of his time because none of these companies had a strong footprint in Lagos until a few months ago. There were even rumors that D’banj had signed Davido to “Def Jam Africa” but we found those to be untrue.