Definitely, it is an incontrovertible fact that the use of computers has virtually taken over social and commercial lives all over the globe. According to Adekunle, the computer has been central to technological development in the last sixty years and has in fact stimulated the speed in the take-off to technological advancement.[1]

Computer technology is having a great impact on the society. The computer is a versatile machine which is characterised by a range of technological functions and devices, and it is now also used for telecommunications which has led to the development of ICT.[2]The term “computer” is not defined in the Nigeria Copyright Act.[3]However,  the Penguin Dictionary of Computers has defined it as “a machine which can accept data in a prescribed form, process the data and supply the result of the processing in a specified format as information, or as signals to control automatically some further machine or process.”[4]

Likewise, the New York Penal Law defined computer as “a device or group of devices, which by manipulation of electronic, magnetic, optical or electrochemical impulses, pursuant to a computer program, can automatically perform arithmetic, logical storage or retrieval operations with or on computer data, and includes any connected or directly related device, equipment or facility which enables such computer to store, retrieve or communicate to or from a person, another computer or another device the results of computer operations, computer programs or computer data.[5]

On the issue of whether a computer or its digital medium of storage satisfies the requirement of fixation, the Nigerian  Copyright Act provides that for a work of copyright to be eligible for protection, it must be expressed in a fixed medium. In the words of the Act:

(2) A literary, musical or artistic work shall not be eligible for copyright unless –
(b) the work has been fixed in any definite medium of expression now known or later to     be developed, from which it can be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated either directly or with the aid of any machine or device.[6]

It does not matter whether the work has been “published” (i.e., made available to the world), as copyright protection is available to both published and unpublished works, so long as it is otherwise fixed in a tangible medium. Copyright does not protect ideas but the expression of ideas. This idea must be expressed or fixed in any definite medium. From this medium, it could be perceived, reproduced or communicated.   

Whatever is stored on a computer can be perceived, reproduced and communicated directly or indirectly, thus satisfying the statutory requirement of fixation in “any definite medium of expression”. The copyright laws protect “original works of authorship” that are “fixed in any tangible medium of expression.”

A work is “fixed” in a “tangible medium of expression,” for example, when it is stored in a computer’s memory or saved on a disk. In light of the above, it should be clear that most materials are protected by copyright to some degree.[7]Therefore, as far as it is fixed in a definite medium, any electronically readable formats (e.g., a blog post, email, or even storage in computer memory), audio recordings, and video, the work is protectable. 

All manner of works can be stored and made available electronically by means of representation in digital form.[8]Fixation implies something more than a temporary projection of the idea. It must be a fixed in a medium that will allow for some sustained presence of a permanent nature. Thus, a microfilm or computer programme would be considered fixed since they are machine legible.[9]

Let’s do this again next week!                   


[1] Adekunle T., “Copyright in the World of Emerging Technologies” in Asein J. O., and Nwauche E. S., (eds.)
   Decade of Copyright in Nigeria, Abuja, Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC), 2002, 153
[2] Some of these characteristics include: high sped performance as an electronic device with a virtually instantaneous internal speed; large capacity to store and process large volumes of data; designed to perform task upon instructions through programming and multi-programming; error-free output subject to accurate input of data; and automatic in nature. All of these characteristics combine to make the computer a threat to copyright in the 21st century owing to its tremendous storage and transfer capacity, two elements usually present in copyright infringement cases. See Sony Music Entertainment (UK) Ltd. v. Easyinternetcafe Ltd (2003) FSR 48 where infringing works were seamlessly downloaded to computers and a CD (Compact disk) copy is easily made of it.
[3] Copyright Act (Cap. C28 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004. S. 51 of the Act however provides for the meaning of “computer programme” as a set of statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result”.
[4] The Penguin Dictionary of Computers, Harmondswirth, Penguin Books, 1977
[5] See s. 156 New York Penal Law, Computer Crime, 1986
[6] S. 1(2)(b) of the Act
[7]Sanford E. et al, “Copyright Infringement Pitfalls in the Online Arena”.
[8] Bainbridge D., Introduction to Computer Law (4th ed.), Longman, Essex, 62
[9] Ajakpovi M., “Intellectual Property Rights in an Electronic Environment: Nigerian Perspective” op cit 517.

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Nigerian Law Today

NLT’s mission is to take legal-content writing to the next level in Nigeria by leveraging legal expertise and technology. We publish fresh, original, and insightful articles on areas of law we cover.

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