Do These 5 Things to Protect Your Copyright And Keep Earning From Your Art

28 November 2022

Africa’s creative industry is currently valued at over $40 billion and generates over $5 billion in annual revenue - which shows there is a lot of money to be made.

As more creators seek to grow and monetise their work, it is important for them to know how to protect their ideas and work so that they can keep earning money from it.

Georgette Monnou, an Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Law, and Debt Finance expert who has also worked as a creative, joined the Africa No Filter Academy Presents: Licensing and Copyrights for Creatives masterclass to share her tips gained from a wealth of experience advising professionals and creatives in each sector of the Entertainment industry on their rights, contractual needs, and potential areas of expansion.

The conversation was moderated by ANF’s Grants Manager, Victor-Mark Onyegbu.

Monnou, who has personally negotiated numerous film and music production, licensing, film and music distribution, finance, sponsorship, endorsement, management, music recording, and performance agreements, explained how to monetise and protect creative work.

She said creatives should do these five things to protect their copyright and keep earning from their art through licensing.

1. Know the basic copyright terms: Copyright is defined as “an intellectual property right which subsists upon the creation of any of the works eligible for copyright protection.” Eligible works include literary, dramatic, artistic, and musical works, sound recordings, and film or motion pictures. Monnou said that copyright protection is automatic, does not need to be registered. However, for work to be automatically eligible for copyright, it must be original and fixed in a definite medium of expression (written, audio, visual). It must exist as a product i.e., tangible. “The law cannot protect ideas in your head,” she added. Other terms to pay attention to include types of works created rights, licensing, and infringement.

2. Pay attention to your location and other nuances: While explaining these terms and how they apply to creatives, Monnou also emphasised the differences in application across various geographical locations. For example, in the U.S. and the UK, dramatic works refer to “a performance of a stage play including a work of dance or mime.” However, this concept does not exist in Nigerian copyright law - for example - and all works like these are categorised as literary works in this case. Also, there are nuances in definition of authorship, for instance, a “joint author” is different from a “co-author.” Ownership would equally apply differently for work which is commissioned by a client as a service or done as part of your employment in an organisation. She cautioned that it is vital to carefully examine employment contracts or other agreements, and the copyright laws in your country to ensure proper authorship of your work and be aware of how it affects your copyrights and ability to license your work anywhere in the world.

3. Know your rights: As an author of any work, it is very important for you to know the full rights to what you can do with your work - which includes publishing, distribution, translation and adaptation. You also need to know the duration of your copyright protection; “for literary, dramatic, artistic, and musical works, copyrights expire 70 years after the end of the calendar year in which the author dies but there are also other caveats such as if the work has unknown authorship in which case the rights expire 70 years after the year the work is first published… this is how it is in Nigeria whether or not the author is known”.

Rights also differ. Monnou talked about economic rights and moral rights and explained that the rights transferred in licensing are mainly economic rights (rights to use and monetise the work), while the moral rights such as the right of paternity - the right to be identified as the creator of your work - cannot be transferred but you can waive them if this needed.

Part of knowing your rights is equally understanding what other people can do with your work that fall within legal boundaries and would not be considered infringement or violation of your copyrights; “Let’s say your painting is found in the background of a scene as someone is shooting a film, it’s considered incidental inclusion and is not a copyright infringement on your work”.

4. Understand licensing: A license is official permission to do, use or own something. Licensing your work is giving permission to an individual or organisation to access and use your work. The license can be exclusive or non-exclusive, and can also include modalities such as territory, length, or use; for example, giving permission for your film/motion picture to only be broadcast in a particular country or region and for a particular period.

Monnou highlighted that authors need to pay attention to these details when transferring rights to their work and in the case of joint or co-authorship, all authors need to be in agreement and aware about how their copyrights are transferred. "If three people create a musical work for example, a song, there's no way of knowing exactly what each person did on the project since they all contribute to the lyrics, sounds, mastering... They are joint authors so, in the US, anyone requesting a license for their work will have to come to each of them for permission since an exclusive license by a joint owner is exclusive only to the extent of that owner's interest. That is, each author has and can only give out one-thirds of ownership rights. But in the UK or in Nigeria, permission from one author is permission from all, so you would have to beware of rogue collaborators who could give out the rights to your work without consent."

5. Seek help: As a creative, the work you do is already challenging and time-consuming, so if anything about copyright and licensing is too complex to understand or too cumbersome to handle alongside your daily schedule, it’s better to seek help. Find a lawyer, or manager, or ask for support from others in the industry who deal with these on a regular basis.