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Oloture – A Breaking Point for Copyright Claims in Nigeria’s Movie Industry

Oloture – A Breaking Point for Copyright Claims in Nigeria’s Movie Industry

If we’re keeping it a buck, the past three years have not only brought multi-million naira grossing movies. But we’ve also seen the Nigerian movie industry at its peak – in terms of directing, cast, location, and proper budget-spending. And while we still have Chidinma the Village Water Fetcher and Alani Saheedi Adigunjale in their tens and hundreds, Nollywood is making considerable progress.

Then there’s Netflix, the world’s largest movie streaming service. While Netflix has been steadily stacking up Nigeria movies, Lionheart endeared most Nigerians to the subscription service. To this writer, the film was subpar for a Netflix Original. But it’s Nigerian, so yaaayy! We did it.

And then we have adaptations—the worst tasting substance since oatmeal. Every movie industry has had its fair share of the good, the terrible, and the ban-worthy. Except for Nigerian adaptations like Saworoide and Beast of No Nation being fairly remarkable, others like Half of a Yellow Sun didn’t give that orgasmic pleasure (Hopefully, Americanah will be worse, so we can finally legislate against impulsive adaptations).

And then we have Oloture, a movie that ticks all three boxes. It’s a great movie, but Netflix won’t let us know how much it grossed. Also, I feel Oloture is an adaptation of a literary project. If you find any of the information strange, sit still, we’ll crunch the data for you.

Immediately after the release of Oloture in October 2020, Tobore Ovuorie took to Twitter to lament how Mo Abudu, Ebony Life, and the film’s crew robbed her of copyright to the story behind the movie. It was 2020. We had seen enough clout and craze throughout the year, so not many of us took it seriously. Until Tobore threatened to introduce “legal steps.”

Tobore Ovuorie

According to Tobore, she validly stated that she was the undercover journalist who took the dangerous initiative to tell the story of sexual exploitation and trafficking in Nigeria. ICYMI, Oloture tells the story of a journalist going undercover to expose human trafficking syndicates, the ills of the mafia, and the complicit status of Nigerian and foreign authorities.

To be fair, Oloture tells a verisimilitude of Tobore’s real-life story as captured within the print and online pages of Premium Times and Zam Chronicles. Who would have thought that a movie on such sensitive issues will turn out to be this controversial? Definitely not me.

Mo Abudu has come out to refute the journalist’s statements claiming that they sought the permission of Premium Times. What’s more? Ebony Life claims that the movie is a work of fiction and that the movie gave closing credits to Tobore. A letter surfaced online where the movie company promised 5% of the film’s grossing to Tobore for inspiring the work.
Mo Abudu

Before you become judge, jury, and executioner based on those facts, let’s answer some legal questions.

Was Oloture merely inspired, or was it an adaptation?

WIPO generally understands adaptation in one of its many publications to be the “modification of a work to create another work.” With copious examples like adapting a novel to make a film. In Nigeria, an adaptation “means the modification of a pre-existing work from one genre of work to another and consists in altering the work within the same genre to make it suitable for different conditions of exploitations and may also involve altering the composition of the work.” (Copyright Act, Section 39[1])

For anyone who has read Inside Nigeria’s Ruthless Human Trafficking Mafia, you’d discover the journalistic piece narrates the idea behind what we watched behind our screens for 1 hour and 46 minutes. The main idea is the same: an undercover journalist goes to uncover a sexual trafficking mafia.

However, you can’t ignore the differences – the prostitution ring subplot, Chuks, how Oloture met the “Madam” etc. This form of adaptation is known in the literary world as “loose adaptation.” The central storyline is maintained, but several subplots are inserted for plot elongation or cinematographic effects.

These minor edits are a no-brainer – we all copy and paste assignments, so we know how well this works. Without a doubt, Oloture is an adaptation. Claims that it is a work of fiction is entirely fraudulent. The closing credit given to Tobore and the striking semblance between both pieces negates any arguments of a fictional nature.

Who owns the copyright to the story?

Now, this is a big deal. There’s a lot to say, really. First off, you don’t go on adapting a work without seeking permission from its copyright holder. However, the lines between the conflicting copyright claimers (Premium Times and Tobore Ovuorie) are quite blurry.

Nonetheless, Section 9(3) of the Copyright Act has been bursting bubble since the days of Jollof spaghetti. The entire section generally places copyright in the author but makes a very compelling exception.

It states that in instances where the author of a work publishes a piece during employment (notwithstanding if it’s a contract of service or an apprenticeship) for a newspaper or magazine, the copyright belongs to the newspaper or magazine.

However, the law limits the newspaper’s copyright claim only to the extent of publishing the work in that periodical. Outside the purposes of publishing the work in the periodical, the copyright automatically belongs to the author.

In Oloture’s case, Tobore was a freelance journalist before her employment contract with Premium Times in 2013, the investigation’s onset. According to Nigerian law, the employer-employee relationship between both parties makes the contract a contract of service. And that’s precisely what the Copyright Act recognizes.

If the law is anything to go by, as it should, the copyright for publishing and reproducing the work in Premium Times periodicals and Zam Chronicles belongs to Premium Times. However, beyond the reproduction of the work in a written investigative reporting format, all copyright belongs to Tobore Ovuorie. If no agreement exists to the contrary, which is highly doubtful, Tobore was the right party to seek permission from before EbonyLife made Oloture into a movie.

Does Tobore have a claim?

I’m tempted to say as sure as the heavens are far above the earth! However, there are so several factors to consider. First, is the movie sufficiently original to be an original piece on its own? The answer to this question may well be a resounding no. The movie fits together to be merely inspired by the journalistic work. From the orgy to the final stop at the outskirts of Lagos, so many parts were significantly reproduced.

Let’s add some case law drama before I sign out. In Daly v. Palmer, the US court laid down an ordinary-observer test to detect if an adaptation infringed on its original piece. The test outlines that if an ordinary man after watching the movie can have an “unmistakable impression” that it is a copy.

Lastly, in Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp v Zee Telefilms, the court held that if the presentation was entirely new, but the theme was the same, it will not suffice for an infringement.

Sadly, these are boxes Oloture didn’t tick. It made an “unmistakable impression” that the substance of the article was copied. Moreover, copyright permissions were gotten from the wrong person, technically. All these arguments tend to favour Tobore Ovuorie.

Regardless of the monetary benefits she’s been offered; she still has a claim as her work was not duly recognized in opening and closing credits. But won’t 5 million dollars be too much to ask? Well, that’s for the court to decide. Let’s pray and fast that this isn’t a typical Nigerian threat to take legal steps – otherwise na Supreme Court of Twitter go settle am las las! !

Author: IP Research Team

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