[Guest Post] Complexities of audiovisual copyright claims in Nigeria: Ini Edo and Chinenye Nworah’s dispute over Shanty Town (Neflix)

The IPKat has received and is pleased to host the following guest contribution by Nkem Itanyi (University of Nigeria) on a recent dispute over copyright ownership of the movie, Shanty Town which premiered on Netflix in January 2023 and discussions over a sequel to the movie. Here’s what Nkem writes:

Complexities of audiovisual copyright claims in Nigeria: Ini Edo and Chinenye Nworah’s dispute over Shanty Town (Netflix)
by Nkem Itanyi

Late last month (February), it was reported in the news that the star actress and co-producer of the movie “Shanty Town” (released on Netflix in 2023) (Iniobong Edo Ekim, pka Ini Edo) had written a letter to Netflix Inc through her solicitors demanding that Netflix ceases and desists from entering into any agreement for a Shanty Town sequel solely with Chinenye Nworah and Giant Creative Media Limited (GCM), the creative producer and production company respectively, of Shanty Town. Ini Edo’s legal team had also written a petition to the Registrar of Trademarks and the Director General of Nigerian Copyright Commission, stating that GCM and Chinenye Nworah’s application for trade mark registration of SCAR (the name of one of the characters in the movie) and application for copyright registration of “Shanty Town” was made by false pretences. GMC denied the assertions as false.

This post discusses the questions on the issue of joint authorship of audiovisual works and implications of copyright registration, which are raised by this dispute.

The solicitors to Ini Edo and Minini Empire Productions Limited (MEP) stated in their petition to the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) and Trademarks and Patent Design Registry that Chinenye Nworah sought to bypass their right as co-owners of the IPRs to the movie, Shanty Town. They further buttressed their claims by mentioning an agreement that was entered into between ICM AND MEP, which grants them equal and joint ownership over the IPRs to Shanty Town. According to the documents published on the internet, the relationship between Ini Edo and Chichi Nworah began as a co-production agreement on December 13, 2019, with another named partner, Joy Odiete, to produce a slate of 5 movies in a 10-year timeline. As a result of these formalities, Ini Edo and Chinenye, in April 2021, made a pitch to Fidelity Bank for funding/sponsorship for Shanty Town. They both signed off as the executive producers of the movie. However, a subsequent agreement was later entered into by both parties, which was titled “Shanty Town Investment Agreement”, where Ini Edo was designated as the Producer/Financier. According to the petition, it was further stated that the IPRs for the movie shall remain with MEP and GCM and that a total of 5% of the total net profit shall be set aside for MEP and GCM for their respective IPRs in the movie.
...oh the suspense

In its response, Giant Creative Media insisted that its Creative Director, Chineye Nworah, is the sole initiator and sole copyright holder of Shanty Town, describing claims suggesting otherwise as entirely false, baseless and without merit.

Matters arising
Based on section 2(1) of Nigeria’s Copyright Act 2022, Shanty Town qualifies as an audiovisual work defined as “the aggregate of a series of related visual images with or without sound, which is capable of being shown as a moving picture by means of a mechanical, electronic or other device and irrespective of the nature of the material on which the visual images and sounds are carried and includes the soundtrack, but does not include a broadcast”. As the persons by whom the arrangements for the making of the audiovisual work were made (see section 108 on definition of author of an audiovisual work), it seems that Ini Edo and Chinenye Nworah are the authors of the audiovisual work (Shanty Town) unless their contract provides otherwise. This is because both made arrangements for the making of the movie, Shanty Town whether as executive producer or as creative director.

Following from the issue of authorship is that of joint authorship and also co-ownership of copyright in the audiovisual work. Section 108 of the Copyright Act defines “work of joint authorship” as a work produced by the collaboration of two or more authors in which the contributions of the authors are merged into an inseparable or interdependent part of a whole. This seems to be the case with Shanty Town as it involves Ini Edo and Chineneye Nworah in their capacities as executive producer and creative director. As joint authors, they are co-owners of copyright in Shanty Town again unless their contract says otherwise.

Another issue relates to the significance of the fact that Chinenye Nworah has registered her copyright in Shanty Town with the Nigerian Copyright Commission and obtained a copyright certificate to that effect. Under section 43 of the Copyright Act, in an action for infringement of copyright in a work, whether civil or criminal, the following shall be presumed where such work has been registered under section 87 of the Act:

(a) that copyright subsists in the work which is the subject matter of an alleged infringement;
(b) that the name appearing on the work purporting to be the name of the author is the name of such author.

The above provision creates a rebuttable presumption that Chinenye Nworah being in possession of a copyright certificate in her name with respect to Shanty Town is the author of the work and the first owner of copyright in the work. However, other persons (including Ini Edo) may rebut the presumption of authorship by evidence showing that Chinenye Nworah is in fact not the (sole) author of the work.

Given that much of the issues that arise from this dispute are dependent on the contract between the parties, it is unsurprising that the parties have indicated intentions to settle out of court.

The provisions of the Copyright Act regarding authorship and ownership of audiovisual works are clear and would apply as stated if there are no contrary contractual arrangements. However, this dispute is a welcome reminder that while creativity or creative input seems to be the crux of claims to copyright ownership generally, the nature of the audiovisual works sector thrives on contractual arrangements.

[Guest Post] Complexities of audiovisual copyright claims in Nigeria: Ini Edo and Chinenye Nworah’s dispute over Shanty Town (Neflix) [Guest Post] Complexities of audiovisual copyright claims in Nigeria: Ini Edo and Chinenye Nworah’s dispute over Shanty Town (Neflix) Reviewed by Chijioke Okorie on Friday, March 15, 2024 Rating: 5

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