I own and manage a TV production company IBST Limited that hitherto had been a equal shareholder in a company called company Storm Vision Limited. Storm Vision when in operation was responsible for the production of a few leading international formats, for which even then IBST was the facility company that provided the support to enable those productions. Storm Vision also created many original formats which included 100% Naija, Nigeria: History Chronicles, a TV series about Nigerian History, All That Glitters, a TV soap series amongst many others. I have chosen to provide this background and use this forum to educate and inform Nigerian industry practitioners about some pitfalls and what short sightedness can cause when we are not careful about the way we do our business.
In reality yesterday was a call to action for me, because having been in the business so long the words my lawyer used to me yesterday brought home the fact that through negligence, poverty of the mind and pocket, I had wittingly sold my rights for a penny, with only myself to blame. I felt like our forefathers who had traded guns and ammunitions with the white man which they used to kill themselves for diamonds and gold which the white man took away to build his empire. What’s this all about you wonder?
When my partner and I had gone our ways in the partnership that formed Storm Vision, there were some tangible intellectual assets which had been developed within the partnership that could not reside with any one party 100% Naija was one of these assets. So I thought! So when Channel O decided to commission the program to my partner in a new company which though carried the name Storm, which was not a stakeholder in the original Storm Vision, I said hey hold on, that’s a Storm Vision Property which cannot be commissioned without the permission of the owners of Storm Vision. I kicked up a fuss and wrote Channel O, and basically told them my feelings. Alas, I should have kept my big mouth shut.
As my lawyer told me “Remi the problem with you Nigerian Producers is that because you spend so much time looking for commissions and sponsors, when you get it you don’t spend too much time with legalities and you just want to sign and get the production going, and in the process because you don’t always consult a lawyer you get sold short”. I just kept quiet. He was so right!
As a partner in the company that created the series 100% Naija and as the Executive Producer who signed the contract, I had signed away the creation, the baby and everything else that happened to its life to MNET. In the contract MNET stated that we were assigning ownership of the title, format, concept, story-line, costumes, set, make up and everything else you can imagine to MNET, and that they could actually without any referral ask anyone to produce the show, and there would be no fees due for repeat productions etc. So in actual reality although we created the format, MNET now owned it, and all of this within a production contract. You can imagine how small I felt. Here I was a respected TV producer not knowing what he signed, and of course my lawyer had a good go at me. Now MNET did not force me to sign the contract did they? No. The issue is I was short sighted and not thorough enough in carrying out the role that was expected of me as a Producer which is to protect that tangible and intangible assets of a intellectual creation which into the long term could generate income for the creators and owners. I failed to negotiate the format rights distinct from the production contract and clearly establish a difference between production and ownership.
Now who is to blame, MNET? Clearly not. I would like to use this forum and my stupidity to inform Nigerian Producers about the following issues:
(1). When signing a production contract with an international broadcaster or license holder read it properly. They’ve been in the game a long long time and know where the loopholes are which they can exploit to your detriment.
(2). Make sure a copyright lawyer reads it and advices you properly before you sign, and let him explain to you implications of the contract. Play out a few scenarios before you sign.
(3). Always negotiate your intellectual property rights separate to that of production. Never, Never allow the two of them to be lumped together. Allow your lawyer to negotiate that with you.
(4). Protect your future rights. Your create something today which becomes a world hit. What happens when you’ve sold away the rights for pittance?
Finally, I wonder today what rights Nigerian Producers like myself, Greg Odutayoi, Femi Odugbemi, Writers like Yinka Ogun, have in their works which they created for MNET. Did they also make the same mistakes as I did, or is it a case of these is MNET terms, if you don’t sign buzz off! Well, one will never know, but if you find yourself in my situation anytime in the future I hope the advise I have given makes sense and you will not end up felling like a complete idiot like I did. It won’t happen again though. You can only be a slave once, and slavery was abolished a long time ago, so its up to the individual producer to make sure they protect their creations and don’t sell them away to people who really should know better, but at the end of the day only want what is best for themselves.