It is no news that controversy has surrounded  the official release of Pia Mia’s new single  titled “I’m a fan” (Featuring Jeremih) which carries similarity with Phyno’s “I’m a fan” (featuring Decarlo and Mr Eazi). Nigerians in their numbers were up in arms labeling the US artiste “a thief” without waiting for official statement from all parties involved.

Well, apparently, the ‘truth’ has surfaced with De Carlo releasing a statement saying “ I wrote the original demo of “I’m a fan” and pitched it to various artistes . I worked with Pia Mia and Jeremih on the Track and their song is the only version authorized”

Phyno, via twitter responded to the allegations of unlawful use of music by uploading screenshots of his conversation with De Carlo. From the screenshots, it could be deduced that :

  • There was a gentleman’s understanding between De Carlo and Phyno
  • There was no monetary payment for the composition
  • Phyno got the composition by barter
  • De Carlo was aware the song was released by Phyno on his “Playmaker” album.

The major issue stemming from the aforementioned is “Can ownership of a song be transferred orally or by messages/chats”?. In other words, can copyright in a song or a work be transferred orally or without a document? The answer is No.

At this point, it is trite we examine the basic principle of Copyright.

What is Copyright?

Copyright in music is the right a creator of a piece of music has, to prevent others from using it without his/her permission. Copyright in music is also the permission a non-creator of music gets from the creator of a piece of music to use it.

Copyright is automatic and begins at creation. All that is required for a song to enjoy copyright protection is for it to be original and exist in a fixed form.[Fixed form, means music may be written or recorded (doesn’t have to be professionally done) in music sheet, CDs, cassettes or any other storage device. Original,  means the expression of the work must be unique to the owner; it doesn’t mean similar works have not been created]

However, There is no copyrighting of ideas

Rights a copyright owner possesses.

There are two types of rights: Moral rights & Economic rights

1] Moral rights ensure that the creator of music is recognized when his work is used or reproduced. It also ensures that a piece of music is not modified in any way that may be derogatory to the reputation of the creator.

2] Economic rights are rights which the copyright owner can exploit for commercial benefits

– Types of economic rights

A] Reproduction rights- the copyright owner has the right to prevent others from making copies of his music

B] Distribution rights – the right of the copyright owner to control the distribution of his music Publishing rights – the right to make a song (without the sound recording) available to the public resides with the creator or someone authorized by him

C] Performing rights – the copyright owner has the right to determine who performs in public the music he has created

D] Recording rights – this covers the right to make a sound recording or a video recording of a song

E] Rights of Translation – the right to translate or to authorize the translation of a piece of music is solely that of the creator of the work

F] Broadcast and communication to the public – the owner of copyright has the right to control the broadcast of his music on radio, television and other cable stations. He also has the exclusive right to control the communication of his music to the public by means of a loudspeaker or similar devices as seen in shopping malls, banking halls, clubs, buses, aircrafts, restaurants etc.

G] Rights of Adaptation – the owner of copyright has the exclusive right to control the modification of his work into another work

H] Exploitation of the translation or adaptation – the copyright owner has the right to control the exploitation in any form of the adaption or translation of his work Length of a copyright In musical works, copyright runs from the time of creation till 70 years after the end of the year in which the author dies. In sound recordings, copyright lasts till 50 years after the end of the year in which the recording was first made.

 Ownership of a copy Vs. Owner of copyright

The purchase of a piece of music or a full album does not confer on the buyer, copyright. The buyer is only entitled to enjoy the music he has bought in a private setting, anything other than this; he may be liable of infringing on the creator’s copyright

Transfer of Copyright

Copyright ownership can be transferred and this must be done by a written agreement. The transfer (assignment) of copyright only affects economic rights. This transfer could be total or partial

In partial assignment, a music author may transfer his reproduction, translation and adaptation rights to a publisher. He may also decide to split his rights between different persons.

Transfer of copyright may also be granted for a period of time and for a certain territory. Transfer of copyright is serious business and should be entered into only after proper legal consultations.

Therefore, it is important to note that transfer of copyright should only be done via a written agreement. However, verbal agreements are  a common and normal practice in the music industry(especially in Nigeria). This, however is unprofessional and It is high time such non-chalance is eradicated from the industry.


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