- “Turning and turning in the widening gyre
- The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
- Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
- Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …”
- (Culled from -The Second Coming. A poem by William Butler Yeats. )
In 2011, American rapper and Actor 50 Cent(real name is Curtis Jackson) wrote and starred in a movie which was eventually titled ‘All Things Fall Apart ’ even though the original plan was for the movie to be called ‘Things Fall Apart ’.
The movie was produced under the same title as the 1958 novel by Chinua Achebe Things Fall Apart. After contacting Achebe’s legal team ,50 Cent offered $1 million just to keep the title Things Fall Apart for his movie, but Achebe would not sell out at any price as he felt it was an insult to buy him over with money. The Foundation that manages Achebe’s copyrights said: “The novel with the said title was initially produced in 1958. It is listed as the most-read book in modern African literature, and won’t be sold for even £1 billion.” Eventually Mr Curtis Jackson had to settle with what was closest to what he had in mind – All Things Fall Apart.
This was in 2011. Articles and opinions sprung up in the national dailies and on the Internet giving perspectives to it. One even went as far as saying that Achebe had no right to stop anybody from using the words since he also took it freely from another source. Superficially it does make a little sense to think in that direction, but a little dig beneath the surface shows how fundamentally different the two scenarios are. The words used by Mr Yeats are English words, and a book could contain as much as eighty thousand words and sometimes more. So are we prohibited from using any arrangement of words just because it happened to have appeared elsewhere? No! The difference is that the title of a book or the name of a product is someone’s intellectual property and is often covered by patent and copyright laws.
So the contexts are different. Infact they have absolutely nothing in common. I could use phrases from Shakespeare’s literature for any purpose I deem fit so long as it is not the registerd product name of any individual or group, correct me if I’m wrong; but I can not name another book or product the same name Shakespeare had given any of his books. It’s understandable,and here is why: If someone walks into a store to buy a product that goes by a particular name, he expects to get just what he has in mind and not another item that goes by the same name, as having many items with the same product name would lead to confusion and a lot of uncertainties. Imagine if it was a drug for instance.
The entire conversation above developed as a result of a recent fifty million naira law suit filed by Sir Victor Uwaifo on the award winning female musician Simi. Simi is being sued for N50 million as damages for using the word ‘Joromi’ in her song and as the title of one of her tracks. Remember ‘Joromi’ was also the title Uwaifo gave to his 1979 global hit.
I think the problem here is the fact that her song bears the same title as Uwaifo’s. So if a foreigner walks into a store and asks for Joromi, he or she could be given Simi’s even though it may not be what the person had in mind. These are fundamental issues every musician should know, but is frequently violated by a good number of artistes we have today probably because there have been no consequences for neglecting such rules.
Not long ago, American Musicians Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke were asked to pay a total of nearly $5 million (€4.4 million) to the family of Marvin Gaye, in a final judgment in the plagiarism case that found similarity between their song Blurred Lines and the song Got to Give It Up . In 2013, the song reached the top of the charts in the UK and US.
Yes! Just because the song sounds just like another song, those two musicians had to pay the the price.
In the case of Simi and Uwaifo, many Nigerians were of the opinion that Sir Victor did not invent the word Joromi and hence had no right to sue her for damages, highlighting how ignorant most people are when it comes to intellectual property laws. Other were of the opinion that he should just forgive as Simi is just like a daughter to her.
In all these,this suit could be the beginning of many more to come, perhaps heralding the beginning of an industry where creativity and originality will flourish as old resting vintage songs will not be disturbed in their resting place by crafty, desperate musicians who at will tamper and modify, and who believe that many living today have absolutely no recollection of the past.