Gospel Artistes and the Importance of Legal Protection – Beyond Spiritual Safeguarding

Gospel Artistes and the Importance of Legal Protection: Beyond Spiritual Safeguarding

Introduction:

Gospel artistes play a significant role in spreading the gospel and promoting Christian values through their music. However, amidst the artistry and devotion, many gospel artistes find themselves navigating complex legal challenges within the music industry. This is why in addition to the spiritual protection they enjoy, artistes also require legal protection to safeguard their creative works and ensure their intellectual rights are respected. 

This article covers the details of the legal protection required for gospel artistes and the implications of copyright infringement within the context of religious music.

1. Copyright and Intellectual Property:

Copyright and intellectual property rights are fundamental pillars of legal protection for gospel artistes. These rights also help artistes maintain control over their original works and compositions, ensure fair recognition of their artistic contributions, and ensure they receive due credit and compensation when their music is licensed,  or shared by others. Copyright protection enables gospel artistes to monetise the exclusive rights over their work, such as lyrics, melodies, and arrangements. It also provides a legal framework to address any instances of infringement, plagiarism, or unauthorised use of their music.

A recent case involving popular gospel singer Yinka Alaseyori highlights the significance of copyright protection for gospel artistes. In June 2023, her colleague Funke accused her of stealing her song in a viral video online. Funke asserted her copyright ownership over the song and called out Yinka for alleged copyright infringement. This incident underscores the need for legal protection to resolve disputes and ensure fair treatment of gospel artistes’ intellectual property rights. 

Under the Nigerian Copyright Act, a work is automatically protected if it meets certain criteria. The work must be original, and expressed in a fixed medium, and the author must be a Nigerian citizen, a company domiciled in Nigeria, or from a country that is a party to an obligation in a treaty or international agreement to which Nigeria is also a party. Additionally, if the work was first published in Nigeria, it is afforded copyright protection.

Copyright protection grants two types of rights: moral rights and economic rights. Moral rights include the right to be acknowledged as the author of the work (attribution) and the right to protect the work from being distorted (integrity). Economic rights pertain to the exclusive control over the distribution, publication, reproduction, adaptation, or performance of the work.

According to the Nigerian Copyright Act, the creator or author of the work automatically owns the copyright, regardless of whether they were commissioned to create it (unless otherwise specified in a contract). This differs from some other jurisdictions, such as the United States, where under a work-for-hire agreement, the commissioner (the person who paid for the work) typically owns the copyright.

The ownership of copyright in a song can be held by one or more individuals. This includes the songwriter who creates the sheet music, the artiste(s) who perform the song, and the record label that distributes it, depending on the contracts governing their involvement.

A copyright holder has the option to transfer their copyright through assignment or grant licences to others to use the work. Copyright infringement occurs when a person uses a copyrighted work without appropriate authorization from the copyright holder. This unauthorised “use” refers to actions that are within the exclusive control of the copyright holder.

Church music, like other types of music, is considered copyright-protected material under copyright law. The rights to use church music or authorise its use lie with the copyright holders. This is true even if certain songs have become widely associated with a particular group of Christians.

To balance the interests of copyright holders with the public’s need for access to copyrighted works, the Nigerian Copyright Act provides several exceptions to copyright protection. These exceptions include fair dealing, parody, pastiche, caricature, educational use, inclusion in a public broadcast, communication to the public where no admission fee is charged by non-profit clubs and works that have entered the public domain due to the expiration of the term of copyright protection.

Religious organisations primarily interact with intellectual property through public performances or communications during religious services and the reproduction or adaptation of works. Singing music or projecting lyrics during a religious service constitutes a public performance or communication to the public. Copying or remaking a song in any form or compilation is considered reproduction. Both of these uses carry the risk of potential liability for copyright infringement.

A well-known foreign case that addressed the interaction between religious bodies and intellectual property is the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese case (506 F. Supp. 1127 (N.D. Ill. 1981)). In this case, Catholic churches in Chicago routinely copied hymns from hymnals published by FEL Publications without subscribing to the annual copying licence. FEL sued for copyright infringement and was awarded over $200,000 in damages.

Another recent dispute involves the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) and songwriter Akande Akinbode. Akinbode alleged that the RCCG’s Praise Team infringed his copyright by including his song ‘I Will Never be Ungrateful’ in their album of praise songs.

Religious bodies may argue that their use falls under the fair dealing exception to copyright protection, However, creatives are advised to appropriately register and copyright their works to ensure the protection of their intellectual property from possible infringements.

2. Contractual Agreements:

Gospel artistes frequently enter into various contractual agreements, whether it be with music labels, publishers, or event organisers. It is crucial for them to have legal representation or at least a basic understanding of contract law as clear and well-drafted contracts enable gospel artistes to negotiate fair terms regarding royalties, performance fees, music distribution, and usage rights.  

We advise that artistes arm themselves with the option of having a legal representation whose duty is to ensure that his client’s (the artiste) rights and interests are protected at all times. This is because legal representation and protection ensure that they are not taken advantage of or trapped in unfavourable agreements that could hinder their creative and financial growth.

3. Performance Rights and Royalties:

Most artistes rely on income from live performances and digital music platforms to sustain their careers. Legal protection is essential for gospel artistes in safeguarding their performance rights and ensuring they receive fair compensation for their artistic contributions. Organisations like performing rights societies, such as the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN), American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI), and Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC), help gospel artistes collect performance royalties when their music is performed in public or broadcasted. Understanding the intricacies of performance rights enables artistes to maximise their earnings and protect their musical creations.

4. Image and Publicity Rights:

Gospel artistes often become public figures with dedicated followers. Hence, they need to be mindful of their image and protect their rights to control how it is used in various mediums. Legal protection of their image and publicity rights ensures that their name, likeness, and brand are not exploited or misused without their consent. Artistes should consider trademarking their stage names, logos, or catchphrases, which allows them to enforce their rights against unauthorised commercial uses. 

A recent incident involving gospel artist Mercy Chinwo serves as an illustration of the importance of image and publicity rights. Mercy Chinwo threatened to pursue a #2 billion lawsuit against singer Obidiz for derogatorily using her name and image in secular music audio and video. Obidiz released a commercial for a song entitled ‘Mercy Chinwo’ on February 10, 2023, with the gospel artist’s picture as the cover image. In response, Mercy Chinwo, through her lawyer, demanded that Obidiz remove the music audio and video from all music digital platforms. This case highlights the necessity for gospel artistes to protect their image and publicity rights through legal channels.

5. Band and Musician Contracts:

Gospel artistes, particularly those who perform with a band or hire musicians, should be aware of the importance of legal protection surrounding band and musician contracts. These agreements establish the terms and conditions regarding revenue sharing, ownership of recordings, performance schedules, and other crucial aspects of the artist-band relationship. Well-drafted contracts help prevent misunderstandings, disputes, or potential legal liabilities, allowing gospel artistes to build strong and professional working relationships.

Conclusion:

Gospel artistes, like any other creative professionals, face legal challenges and complexities that require legitimate protection. Beyond the spiritual dimension, legal protection ensures that artistes retain control over their creative works, are fairly compensated for their contributions, and are shielded from potential exploitation. Understanding copyright, intellectual property laws, contractual agreements, performance rights, and image rights is crucial for gospel artistes to navigate the music industry successfully and safeguard their rights and interests. By seeking legal guidance and building a strong legal foundation, gospel artistes can focus on sharing their music, inspiring others, and making a positive impact on the world while their legal rights are appropriately protected by the force of the law.

Authors

Adedoja Laoye
Emmanuel Agherario
Beverley Agbakoba-Onyejianya