Olufola Wusu

Fola Wusu

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Basket Mouth the popular comedian will be flying the flag for African comedy as he becomes the first ever Nigerian comedian to perform at the yearly Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal, Canada.

Comedy is no longer a laughing matter as it is now big business in Nigeria. In the early days there was Chief Chika Okpala, aka Chief Zebrudaya of the New Masquerade fame in the 80s.Some of the comedians we have now are Basket Mouth, Akproro, Pencil Julius Agwu, Jedi, AY, Gandoki, Teju Baby Face, Mandy, Princess, Lepacious Bose, Seyi Law, Holy Mallam, Julius the Genius Agwu and Ali Baba.

Landmarks Events…

The Opa Williams “A Night of a Thousand Laughs”… was a programme that took a life of its own, the organisers excelled at brand extension by churning out a number of goods like Cds, T-Shirts and other souvenirs.

Then came Atunyota Alleluya Akpophiohuobo Akpobomerere, better known as, King Ali Baba. He is said to have practically rebranded the industry and given it a new face and direction.

At the onset people were a bit conservative, but overtime, with television, travel, information technology and yes freedom of speech (democracy) the industry evolved very quickly.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria comedians often neglect their intellectual property and its legal power and commercial potential to develop their unique images, fend off competition and maximise profits by commercialisation and extension of their brand identity.

Innovative Jokes…

In other climes script writers pen the jokes that comedians perform. But in Nigeria, comedians are multi-talented; they write their jokes, perform same and also manage their own entertainment companies. The time and labour that comedians invest into writing their jokes represents a substantial investment.

Write and date your jokes

Under Nigerian law, a joke spoken by a comedian during a live performance cannot be copyrighted unless it is recorded or has been written down beforehand. Copyright covers the exact form of words used to express a joke rather than the general idea behind it!

Improvised routines?

The Copyright Act (Nigeria) extends copyright protection to performance rights which can be defined widely enough to capture not just jokes which are recited from written notes or even off hand, but even improvised routines that come up spontaneously.

One Liners?

Comedians who specialise in “one-liner” jokes which can be easily reproduced verbatim on sites such as Twitter – are far more likely to be subject to plagiarism than those whose humour relies on the telling of long anecdotes.

Borrowing of Jokes/ Comedy Routines is not a laughing matter

They allege that their stand-up routines are being pilfered by upcoming acts; their CDs are massively pirated and distributed without gains for their pockets by pirates and viewers who also reproduce their works online massively.

In response some comedians have put shows together to groom upcoming comedians so as to possibly allow for an inflow of fresh jokes, that may be generally consumed as it is assumed that jokes are not copyright protected.

Intellectual Property for Borrowing…

The advent of the Nigerian Entertainment Fund has shown that there is a greater need for comedians to pay more attention to their intellectual property as same can now be used as collateral to get a loan!

Intellectual Property Registration and Enforcement Strategies

The experience in other climes:

It has been a mix of IP rights and social normative norms laced with lightning speed commercialisation.

Self help

In September 2008, Lee Hurst smashed an audience member’s mobile phone. He admitted causing criminal damage and was fined £60 and ordered to pay compensation and costs.

Cease and desist letters

Gary Delaney, was embroiled in a row with a comedy website.

He complained to the site after several of his one-liners had been posted on its online joke compendium without attribution.

Social Normative Protection

Comedians have an unwritten code that joke theft is not funny, there have been reports of comedians “naming and shaming” perceived joke thieves in an effort to discourage joke theft …no comedian wants to be known as a joke thief.

A Possible Paradigm shift…

Basis for protection

If you don’t register your intellectual property – your trademark, copyright, geographical indications and your patent – you have no foundation to build on!

Blessed art thou when pirates copy your jokes…

It shows that there is a lot of demand for your jokes and comedy routines and you are possibly not meeting it…

Carrot and Stick approach to Piracy;

It might be wiser to take a mixed approach. Charge with legal action at some pirates, but seek to cooperate with others via licensing and informal franchising, and even appropriate ideas from other pirates, the concept of mix tape for music and comedy is a good example.

Make customers aware of counterfeit/pirated DVDs, videos of jokes and the websites peddling them.

They can put up a page on their website alerting customers, enlist the help of bloggers and ask fans of their Facebook page to get the word out.

Flood the market with original stuff/incentives!

Our comedians need to get to the point where they can flood the market with original apps, DVDs, videos and websites selling their jokes. They can offer autographed products and vouchers to customers.

Which Wan Be This I.P. Sef?

Nigerian Comedians should show concern about infringement of their intellectual property, at the minimum they need to get up to date with IP and comedy.

Collaborate with other pirates…possibly after some “persuasion”

For every counterfeiter you successfully put down, like 10 others come up to replace him because there is a gap in between supply and demand of comedy products.

Licence Some …

Why not licence some of them (pirates) and make their work benefit you. You can come to some form of arrangement with them which makes the “production cost advantage” that their peers have totally useless. This means you “have” a production industry set up at no cost and you get license fees. In a sense it’s just like franchising, but with unwilling parties that have to be persuaded and sometimes coerced.

Engage “born again pirates”

Intellectual Property Rights owners need to recruit some IP infringers to be partners. The counterfeiters-turned-licensees can and should be enlisted to help take on the remaining pirates.

“Pirating the Pirates”

You can also “pirate the pirates”, some pirates are innovative and will come up with good ideas premised on your pirated IP, since it is yours go ahead and begin production of legitimate copies.

Eventual Change of Strategy?

IP rights owners can only license so many counterfeiters and they have to be willing or encouraged to be willing, leaving out the obstinate few.

Understand the Nigerian marketplace…

It is important to have an understanding of the Nigerian marketplace and its culture before going in all guns blazing down the litigation route. A willingness to deploy appropriate technology, to work with the locals and the middle men will be a useful tool in enlisting their support to combat the more horrific types of piracy down the line.

Conclusion

It is not about form of expression versus the idea in the joke…

In the end a mix of I.P. Registration, social normative systems, commercialization and I.P. asset management may hold the key to the growth of the comedy industry in Nigeria.

Olufola Wusu is a Commercial, Oil and Gas and I.P. Lawyer based in Lagos

Olufola Wusu Esq. © 2012

Olufola Wusu is noted for his “dynamic practice” and “commercial acumen”. He is praised for his “first-rate skills” in assisting clients…