Interview of Prof. Animi Esther Sylvanus-Pepple, Chairman, Governing Board of Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) by Vincent A. Oyefeso and Mary Adegbile
Congratulations on your recent appointment and assumption of office as the incumbent Chairman of the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC)
Thank you very much. My appointment by His Excellency, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR was effective from 18th March 2021 as the current Chairman of the Governing Board of the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) and I have since assumed office.
I work with the Nigerian Institute of Advance Legal Studies (NIALS) as a Research Professor. I head the Directorate of Continuing Legal Education, Consultancy and Regional Economic Law and I am still in the employment of the Institute. I am happy to serve as the Chairman of the Board of NCC; it is a challenge for me and members of the Board to see that we do all we can to achieve the objectives for which the Commission is set up.
What are the policy focus and priority agenda of the Board for the Commission under your charge as Chairman, NCC?
The Commission is set up by an Act, the Copyright Act and the Act also prescribes the objectives of the Commission. So, our policy objective or policy focus as a Board is not different from what the Act has spelt out; and what does the Act say? The Commission is to protect copyright owners in the stated areas of copyright and there are six of those areas: the literary works, the artistic works, the musical works, the cinematographic works, broadcast works and sound recordings.
So our policy thrust is to make sure that these works are actually protected. The Board will be working closely with the Management of the Commission; you know they are responsible for the day-to-day running of the affairs of the Commission to make sure that its objectives are realised and we, as the Board, are here to support and strengthen their mechanisms and other things that they put in place to make sure that the mandate of the Commission is achieved. That will be our policy thrust; it will not be different from what we are set up to do; it will only be to enhance, encourage and ensure that those objectives are realised.
What plans do you have as the Board Chairman to ensure adequate funding of the Commission and to also engender the critical buy-in and support of development partners in the creative industry for successful implementation of the Commission’s mandates?
Insufficient funding is actually a problem for almost all Agencies and even business entities and the challenge for the Commission is not much different from what many other Agencies are going through. It is difficult to say this is what the Board will do to make sure that the Commission has adequate funds to run its projects and achieve the objectives for which it was set up. This is because there is really no magic wand to it.
However, we are going to be following established protocol for expanding our revenue base; I mean we are going to be consulting and making submissions to Government because, as we all know, Government is the funder of the Commission. So we are going to be making presentations by way of consultations, meetings; we will be presenting the problems of the Commission in a way that they will understand that there is need for increased funding for the Commission.
We are also going to be discussing and collaborating more with stakeholders; by stakeholders, I mean all those who are affected or impacted by the work of the Commission. These include the copyright owners, sister agencies, international and local development partners. Also we will try to explore more opportunities that the Act itself has given us to raise revenue. All these, we are going to do and with the cooperation of the Management and staff and people of goodwill, we believe that something better will come out of it and that our funding challenges will somehow be minimised.
We are going to be listening to and cooperating with stakeholders and the stakeholders are actually critical to this; so we hope to meet often or draw up programmes that will involve their buy-in. First and foremost, sensitisation is very important; the stakeholders have to understand that the Commission is here for their good because the functions of the Commission include protecting the copyright owners and their works; that is one of the basic functions of the Commission. So the Commission is set up actually for the good of the stakeholders; if they understand that the Commission is here to assist them, they will realise better the efforts we are putting in, that the programmes of the Commission have them in mind as the beneficiary, then I believe that we would be able to go a long way.
First and foremost, we do not totally understand all their difficulties; so in our discussions with them, trying to get their buy-in, we will be able to know what areas to focus on in assisting them to realise their own goals and we too will realise our own goals as a Commission. So that is what we are going to be doing.
Like I said, the established protocol of consultation, cooperation, collaboration is what we are going to pursue. While we are doing those, some things will unfold and then we will also follow them up appropriately. We want stakeholders to understand that we are not here for ourselves; we are here for them and for the entire country, so we need their inputs in what we are doing to better realise the objectives of the Commission.
The Copyright Levy Order, approved since 2012, is expected to be a source of internally generated revenue (IGR) for copyright owners and key institutional stakeholders, including the Commission as the main regulatory and enforcement agency for copyright in Nigeria.
However, approval of the Federal Ministry of Finance for implementation of the Levy Oder is still being awaited. How does the Board under your watch as Chairman intend to secure approval for commencement of implementation of the Levy Order?
The Copyright Levy Order was made pursuant to the rights given by the Copyright Act itself. Generally, the Commission is given powers to make regulations and bye-laws for effective implementation of the Act because if you look at the Act, it is not copious enough to encompass everything that the Commission will be doing; so the Commission is given the powers to make bye-laws and regulations and through the regulations, we can now specify the details of what we want to do. With regards to collecting levies, that power has already been given to the Commission; so what the Order seeks to do is just to give the details of how this will be done and already, it has gone through an advanced stage – all we need is there. Like I said earlier, it is a matter of consultation. We will meet with the Minister and try to make him know why it is important that we have the approval to go ahead with the collections. Even the poor state of funds in the Commission is a strong reason for that approval to be given.
The Commission is grossly underfunded, if we bear in mind that the Commission’s mandate as a regulatory and enforcement Agency covers the entire Federation. Right now, besides its Headquarters at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja FCT, the Commission is operating in only 14 states out of the 36 states of the Federation. We should also bear in mind that the Commission is handicapped in effectively carrying out its work due to many constraints such as dearth of staff.
From the Management briefing of the Board, it was revealed that the Commission has only 324 staff in 14 State Offices while its Headquarters offices are scattered at the Federal Secretariat in Abuja FCT. We understand that the Commission does not have any building of its own apart from its office building in Lagos which is in a serious state of dilapidation and it needs urgent renovation. Likewise, the other NCC State Offices are either allocations in Government Secretariats or in private stakeholder’s building; some are one or two rooms only, which further shows that the Commission really needs funding.
In view of the enormous regulatory and enforcement mandates of the Commission, with powers of investigation, powers of inspection, powers of anti-piracy raids, powers of seizure of copyright infringing materials, powers of arrest, detention and prosecution of offenders, among others, it is clear that the Commission is saddled with a lot of work. Hence, it requires adequate budgetary allocation and internally generated revenue to enable it discharge its mandates effectively. Some key areas requiring major funding of the Commission are: To have the appropriate infrastructure in terms of office buildings and relevant equipment to work in all States of the Federation and the FCT.
To have more staff in the Commission to be able to carry out its duties across the country. How does the Commission carry out its nationwide mandates with only 324 staff, out of which 194 staff are at its Headquarters in Abuja?
The Commission clearly needs major funding, both from Government and internally generated revenue, and this is where the Copyright Levy Order will be relevant. I believe that if the Minister is aware of all these critical issues surrounding the funding needs of the Commission, she will not hesitate to give approval for implementation of the Levy Order. So that is why the consultations become very important. That is the way we intend to approach it.
The Copyright Repeal Bill has been transmitted to the National Assembly: When a new Copyright Act is enacted by the National Assembly, what are its likely gains?
A lot stands to be gained from the new Bill. The current Bill was made in 1988; that was a long time ago and we know that, that time, online or digital issues were almost nonexistent. So the whole focus was on physical space; but now, we know that the bulk of copyright genres: literary, music e.t.c. are online. We all go online: we go to YouTube, Facebook. People’s works are being thrown up there and exploited without any regard to copyright issues. So the new Law has incorporated the digital issues and the Act will make provision for the power to regulate copyright exploitation and enforce copyright law in the digital space; and since most works are in the digital space, there will be more protection. Therefore, when a new Copyright Act is passed, it really is going to be doing a lot even for the physical space. I believe there is also going to be some improvement in the provisions of the law to take care of emergent issues that were not foreseen when the Act was passed in 1988. Ordinarily, laws should be reviewed periodically; this Law has been on for too long. Even without these issues, it is overdue for review not to talk of when we have these issues. So it is going to be impactful and solve some of the problems we have now just by its being in existence.
What is your advice to the National Assembly?
Firstly, our legislators need to understand that the Copyright Act is not just a law for few persons; rather it is a law for the entire country. Secondly, for them to understand that this Act or the proposed new law has the potential to boost the economy. I think sometime ago, we were talking about the contributions of the creative industries to our gross domestic product (GDP) and it is very high. The copyright industry is also a high employer of labour; a lot of people are engaged in all these creative works; so it will boost the economy by opening the space for more people to be employed and by making sure that income accruable to authors and right owners get to their hands. Once that is done, the economy will be the better for it because there will be more activities in other sectors of the economy; there will be more purchasing power for citizens which will further boost the economy. So there is a lot to be gained.
Our advice is, understand what this Act intends to achieve and give it the priority that it deserves.
What areas of the operations of the Commission do you think need to be improved upon?
To improve the performance of the Commission, we need the buy-in of stakeholders. The stakeholders’ buy-in is very minimal, so we need more and effective buy-in of stakeholders because this is one thing we cannot do without. Without the support, understating and buy-in of stakeholders, we cannot make any progress and by stakeholders I mean the copyright owners, other sister Agencies that are also involved somehow in the work that the Commission is doing, including relevant international agencies because most copyright infringement cases may involve across boarder issues. So we need the stakeholders’ buy-in and the understanding of Government. The Commission’s interventions in all these areas need to be strengthened and as I have mentioned earlier, consultations and collaborations are very important and key in enhancing the performance of the Commission.
What is your message to stakeholders in the creative industry?
Like I said before, for stakeholders in the creative industry, they need to understand that first and foremost the Commission is here for them and for their good. That is the basic reason for which the Commission was set up and so we need their buy-in.
The Commission needs the stakeholders’ collaborations; we need their cooperation. We need to understand what exactly are their challenges and expectations and how we can assist. So, my charge is for them to be open in collaborating with us, to be willing to collaborate with us, to be interested in the work of the Commission, seeing that the Commission is actually here for their good in the first place and then, for the good of the entire nation.