No Music Day… Artistes revolt against copyright infringement

A cross section of artistes at the maiden edition of No Music Day in Lagos.

A cross section of artistes at the maiden edition of No Music Day in Lagos.

Today is No Music Day. Every September 1 is set aside to draw attention to the widespread infringement of the rights of composers, song-writers, performers, music publishers and other stakeholders in the Nigerian music industry.

Indeed, template of today’s commemoration will not be different from what has been the ritual in the last six years when the anniversary was elevated to public consciousness.

It started in 2009 in Lagos, when a group of Nigerian artistes held rallies at the National Theatre, Iganmu, and went on a weeklong hunger strike, to protest the abuse of the rights of artistes in Nigeria. Some radio stations in the city largely observed a call by Nigerian artistes to protest against piracy and the non-payment of royalties.

That year, BBC’s Fidelis Mbah, who monitored the campaign in the city, observed that some stations had instead played foreign music. However, the campaign gathered momentum and gained public acceptance when the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) stepped in and laced the usual protest with intellectual engagements aimed at sensitising the public on danger of copyright infringement and its implications to the country’s economy.

So, for today’s celebration, COSON and its partners have urged broadcast stations across Nigeria not to broadcast music between the hours of 8am and 10am today, as a mark of solidarity with the nation’s creative industry, which has suffered immensely from the debilitating infringement of copyright. And with the impact the copyright organisation has made so far in the fight against piracy, it is certain that there is goingt to be visible compliance.

Rather than broadcast music, the stations have been asked to dedicate the 8am to 10am time belt to the broadcast of interviews, documentaries, debates and discussions that focus on the rights of creative people and the potential contributions of creative activities to the national economy.

On the other hand, newspapers and magazines across the country are also requested to publish special features on these issues in the coming days, while the Nigerian public is requested to tune in to different domestic radio and television stations to engage members and affiliates of Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) and other music industry experts, who will spread out to diverse broadcast stations to discuss on the theme, Monetization of Musical Content in the Digital Space, as the Nigerian nation seeks alternative resources to the dwindling oil revenue.

Holding amid dwindling purchasing power of most Nigerians, this year’s No Music Day will focus on revealing the significant financial benefits that can accrue to the nation’s traumatised economy, if the huge potentials in the music industry in the digital environment are properly harnessed.

According to renowned intellectual property activist and Chairman of Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), Chief Tony Okoroji, the objective behind No Music Day has been to engage the Nigerian people and the various governments on the potential contributions of Nigerian music to the socio-economic development of the Nigerian nation.

“Through this initiative, we push for the necessity to fully deploy the substantial comparative advantage, which the nation possesses in this area, so as to provide hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs to the teeming masses of Nigerian youth who parade the streets of our country with little hope. I have no doubt that if the right environment is created in Nigeria, the enormous creative energy exhibited by our young people will be released to the amazement of the world,” he said.

Okoroji, who has been in the forefront of campaign for the activation of private copy levy scheme, noted that, “the scheme is intended to provide badly needed cushion for the stakeholders in the creative industry suffering from the unbridled copying and downloading of creative materials made possible by digital technology.”

Though the last administration failed to activate the private copy, the former PMAN President is optimistic that the present administration led by Muhammadu Buhari will save the situation.

“It is our hope that the new government of President Buhari, which has indicated that it wants to release the creative potentials of the Nigerian people, will without delay activate this scheme, which will provide some succour, not just for the music industry, but also for the movie and literary industries. Rather than ‘dash’ money to the practitioners in the creative industries from government funds, the scheme will provide the platform for practitioners to earn their own income and further provide resources for the battle against piracy,” he said.

While thanking stakeholders who are committed to the defense and promotion of intellectual property rights in Nigeria, including the different Judges of the Federal High Court and the Justices of the Court of Appeal, Chief Okoroji said, “their correct interpretation of the law on collecting societies and repeatedly refusing to bow to those who want to stampede them to read the law upside down and prolong the suffering of the Nigerian creative community, has brought the industry thus far.”

Songwriter and CEO of NowMuzik, Mr Efe Omorogbe reminisced on how the commemoration originated in the country. “This coming September 1 will mark the eighth consecutive edition of No Music Day. We hope that everyone remembers that historic week in 2009, when for several days, a group of Nigerian artistes held huge rallies at the National Theatre in Lagos and went on a week-long hunger strike to protest the cruel abuse of the rights of artistes in Nigeria. For the first time in the history of mankind, the music industry called for the halt of the broadcast of music all over the country for a whole day, September 1, 2009. That action captured the imagination of the world and No Music Day was born,” he recalled.

In the words of Songstress and Queen of Love, Azeezat Allen, “We are planning seriously to make No Music Day 2016 a memorable event. I hope that COSON and the Nigerian Music Industry Coalition will receive the support of everyone across Nigeria. Let us unleash the creative ingenuity of our people and create a better tomorrow for Nigeria’s children”

However, despite the campaigns, pirated CDs of popular Nigerian music albums are readily available on the streets of Nigeria and beyond, at a fraction of the official price. Even with occasional raids on the pirates’ production outfits, it appears security agents have failed to tame their activities. But with COSON strongly leading the onslaught, it’s obvious that Nigerian musicians are now united in their struggle to ‘let the music pay.’ Notwithstanding, the government has a major role to play.

Historically, Bill Drummond, a South African-born Scottish musician, writer, and record producer, introduced the yearly No Music Day event, usually marked on November 21. A co-founder of late 1980s avant-garde pop group The KLF and K Foundation, the musician specifically set aside the day to draw attention to the cheapening of music as an art form, due to its mindless and ubiquitous use in contemporary society.

“I decided I needed a day I could set aside to listen to no music whatsoever. Instead, I would be thinking about what I wanted and what I didn’t want from music. Not to blindly – or should that be deafly – consume what was on offer. A day where I could develop ideas,” Drummond explained.

Strategically, November 21 was selected for the campaign, as it is the day before the feast of Saint Cecilia, who is the patron saint of music. This follows the traditional observance of antithetical events on the day before religious occasions, such as celebrating Mardi Gras before the start of Lent.

The campaign was launched in 2005 with a billboard poster at the entrance to the Mersey Tunnel, Liverpool. In 2006, the arts based radio station Resonance 104fm broadcast no music, as did BBC Scotland in 2007. The campaign was promoted in São Paulo, Brazil in 2008, though Drummond has stated that, despite graffiti announcing the day, his efforts to apprehend buskers and to encourage music shops to close, he doubted that “there was even a fraction less music consumed in Brazil on the 21 November 2008 compared to any other day.”

In 2009, the City of Linz, Austria, quite comprehensively observed No Music Day with the backing of the mayor and the Hörstadt (Acoustic City) initiative. Shops, restaurants, schools and radio stations in the city played no music, while the cinemas showed only films without music soundtracks. Theatres and concert halls held only non-musical performances in support of the campaign.

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