But now, members of the country’s music industry are trying to put a stop to all the pilfering, hoping they can finally turn the growing popularity of Nigerian music to their advantage.
Nigerian music — Afrobeats in particular — is having a moment. It blares in hotel lobbies, airport lounges, nightclubs and the dozens of bedroom recording studios where young men and women dream of stardom in this clogged, overheated city.
While many countries have courts or jurists focused on intellectual property cases, artists in Nigeria have only in recent years begun to pursue copyright protection. They complain that laws to protect them are so seldom invoked that some judges don’t even know they exist.
Recording artists are pressing cellphone companies for more money to use their songs, the Nigerian government recently announced a new push to protect intellectual property, and the national copyright commission created an institute to train musicians, and judges, about artists’ rights.
“We’re trying to change people’s perception about the use of music,” said Chinedu Chukwuji, chief executive of the Copyright Society of Nigeria. “Music is everywhere, but they don’t know it’s proprietary.”
Industry executives are trying to use Nigeria’s economic malaise as a rallying cry, arguing that legitimate sales not only benefit musicians, but could also help an economy that has plunged into recession amid low oil prices.
“We’re no longer getting revenue from oil, so we’re arguing that content is the new crude,” said Aibee Abidoye, general manager at Chocolate City Group and 5ive Music, which seeks royalties on behalf of three Lagos-based record labels.
In recent decades, music from abroad — mainly American and British hip-hop and R&B — often dominated the Nigerian scene. Yet international music distributors largely ignored the nation and its nascent middle class as a potential market. With few ways of buying the overseas music that was so popular here, illegal sales flourished.