We should be talking about plagiarism in Nigerian music videos

In light of Lyta's alleged copyright infringement, we need to talk about it now.

Last Friday, Lyta put out his first official single of the year, “Hold Me Down”, along with a colourful set of visuals to accompany the song. Coming just a few days after the official announcement of his record contract signing with Naira Marley’s Marlian music, the release was only supposed to signal a new lease of life for Lyta – especially after a controversial exit from YBNL last year which led to him subsequently realigning himself as a veritable hot prospect in Nigerian music with well-received singles “Monalisa” and “Worry”, and a nomination for Next Rated at the last Headies.

Rather than the overwhelmingly positive reception Lyta would have been hoping for, “Hold Me Down” began to drown in a sea of backlash, after negative comments trailed the music video for being an alleged direct copy of “Just Right” by South Korean boy band, GOT7. The blatant similarities between the two videos were pointed out by fans of GOT7, and in typical K-Pop fandom fashion, they have been relentless in pointing accusing fingers at Lyta and the video director, WG Films.

At the moment, comments under the “Hold Me Down” video have been turned off, but if you were quick enough to catch them while they were up, the section was populated with GOT7 fans panning Lyta’s “copycat” video and urging other viewers to go see the “original”. Additionally, the ratio between likes and dislikes was grossly uneven, before those metrics were also rendered invisible, with thumb down hits far outnumbering those who hit the thumbs up. On Twitter too, relentless K-Pop fans have adopted #ApologizeLyta as the official hashtag, popping up under every tweet related to Lyta and his video, while also spamming GOT7’s record label, JYP Entertaintment, in a bid to get them to take legal action against alleged plagiarism, on behalf of their client.

Despite the backlash, however, Lyta and his team have treated these allegations with a levity that is now expected of Nigerian artists accused of unashamed imitation. A quick scroll through Lyta’s Twitter page shows the singer in full aloof mode, as he’s gone about promoting the new single, even though every tweet and retweet from him is being met by comments from GOT7 fans attempting to shame him and demanding he addresses the accusations. On Sunday afternoon, Naira Marley put out a tweet saying he’d spoken to Lyta’s mum and “she prayed for everybody in Asia”, since her son had now gained popularity on the continent, jokingly undermining their very legitimate anger.

In the closest thing to an admission of culpability, the director WG Films claimed he loved the video for GOT7’s “Just Right” so much, he decided to recreate it for Lyta’s “Hold Me Down”—but even the tweet proving admittance has now been deleted. The description on the YouTube page for “Hold Me Down” has also been changed to expressly state that the video is inspired by GOT7 and fellow K-Pop powerhouse, BTS. In doing this, the aim is to clearly stem all the negative reactions, even though the attribution is obviously after the fact.

Normally, all of this should be shocking, but for anyone who has been paying attention to music video plagiarism issues in Nigerian music, it really isn’t. In fact, we’ve developed a worrisome pattern of blatantly ripping off other sources, that dates back quite a bit. In 2013, respected veteran director Clarence Peters came under fire for allegedly replicating the central parts of American hip-hop super-group, Slaughterhouse’s “My Life” for the music video of Ice Prince Zamani’s “V.I.P”, and he returned to the headlines for the same reason in 2016, this time taking unfettered cues from Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” for Flavour’s “Dance”.

In all fairness, Clarence Peters has built an enviable resume since arriving on the Nigerian music scene since the mid-00s –he’s arguably the most celebrated music video director in recent times. Nevertheless, there’s still a relatively obvious credibility to both these examples when you place the contrasting videos side-by-side, and it begs the question of how many more instances we may have missed, especially if the “reference” clip isn’t a widely popular charting number. The internet has played a massive role in ensuring the world is becoming an increasingly connected, globalised village, and seeing as Nigeria has been playing catch up, it’s not far-fetched that many of these types of alleged discretions from the (somewhat recent) past may have flown under the radar with relative ease.

With the slow rise of internet penetration in the country and the increased global attention to Nigerian music, obvious biting can be caught much quicker these days – there are a few too many recent examples to that effect. Shortly after its release in April, TG Omori’s work in the video for Terry G’s “Adura” was under scrutiny for bearing identical similarities to the video for Swedish singer-songwriter, Neneh Cherry’s “Kong”. Shortly after it was brought to her attention, Jenn Nkiru, the British-Nigerian director behind the August 2018 released “Kong” video, called TG Omori out for biting her work without trying to put his own creative spin on it. TG Omori has yet to publicly respond to this accusation.

About a month before that incident, Davido’s video for “1 Milli” was in the news for similar reasons, with allegations that a scene had been directly lifted from the 2018 short film, “Entitled”, by British-Nigerian filmmaker Adeyemi Michael. A few days after the seeming connection was made, the director for “1 Milli”, Dir. K stated on his Instagram story that he was showing respect and paying homage to Adeyemi Michael’s work. For some, Dir. K’s statement coming after his use of another artist’s work was spotted seemed dubious, since Adeyemi wasn’t outrightly credited nor did it seem like his permission was sought before the video was released. Adeyemi Michael has yet to make a public statement concerning the recreation of his work, and that might just be because an agreement may have been reached (considering Davido’s established knack for properly crediting anyone involved in working on his music).

Inferences aside, these scenarios come back to a familiar yet murky question surrounding the rights of the creative being blatantly ripped off, and that’s the line between homage and thievery. The line between homage and thievery is hinged upon receiving permission and execution. In order to for a music video to be regarded an homage, the director needs to seek out their source, inform them of their intentions in advance and credit them publicly. Upon doing that, the director should interpolate their inspiration in a way that also takes cognisance of their own creative licence – basically, don’t do copy and paste.

Unimaginative copying seemed to be Jenn Nkiru’s main gripe with TG Omori, in her scathing tweet where she stated that TG Omori’s version of the allegedly cribbed scene “is trite af.” The truth is, no idea is entirely original and creativity is basically a form of regurgitating inspirations into something distinct. It is totally fine for directors and artists to take cues from pre-existing videos, but it’s embarrassing when the result is an exact replica of the inspiration, and even worse, when the person(s) being taken from has no prior knowledge.

Unlike in music, where the artist being plagiarised has a high, nearly clear cut, chance to take legal action and win (there’s even a name for it: sampling), music videos are far less certain, since the exact rights of the director aren’t as defined. The first issue stems from the fact that many reports about ripped off videos tend to refer to them as plagiarism cases, when in fact, they are copyright cases. The main difference between the two is, plagiarism provides cover for wrongful claims of authorship while copyright is solely focused on rights to creativity; the former is based on ethical grounds that’s pretty much rigid, whilst the other is focused on legalities which are ambiguous by definition. Plagiarism prevents people from passing off borrowed work as their own and copyrights protects against creative work being infringed upon without the owner’s permission, and the latter usually comes at a cost.

For example, when an artist is sampled, they are entitled to an agreed percentage of whatever music they inspired. The distinct qualities of the audio composition makes it easy for a copyright to be applied, such that any further use is largely subject to the discretion of the owner(s). For videos, however, copyrights are far trickier because of the unlimited number of combinations that are possible even when a frame-by-frame interpolation is being made. This difference is why a musical sample that’s been sped up or chopped beyond initial recognition needs to be cleared, but a blatant visual copy can escape legal retribution provided it isn’t claiming outright ownership of the idea from the jump.

In the case of Lyta’s “Hold Me Down”, it doesn’t take detective skills to see that the first half of the video is pretty much a photocopy of GOT7’s “Just Right” – but “pretty much” doesn’t equal exact. Despite following the same sequence, there’s differences in the colour, such that it can be argued that Lyta’s video is simply a harmless recreation. While doing research for this story, I found out that parodies are covered under the fair use side of YouTube’s copyright policies, meaning that Lyta and his team can even argue that “Hold Me Down” is a parody of “Just Right”, especially after they’ve now claimed they were paying homage.

Up till now, JYP Entertainment have yet to address this situation or hint at a legal suit, possibly owing to the complexities involved. If it was some form of musical theft, the case would have been shut alreadt, however, this is entirely different, partly because YouTube has its own difficulties monitoring and regulating against plagiarism and copyright problems when it comes to videos. Another hindrance could be that there’s a physical boundary between all the involved parties, with no international copyright laws to serve as arbitrator between them.

Every country and region has copyright laws and codes which are specific to them, and although both videos in this case are primarily hosted on the same virtual platform, where they were created needs to be taken account of. JYP cannot effectively sue Lyta and WG Films in their home domain of South Korea, neither can they do so in the U.S (where YouTube is based), and they very likely won’t come to Nigeria solely for litigation purposes. There’s every chance that they will file a complaint with YouTube – if they haven’t already – but it’s going to be really difficult for the streaming giant to see a motive to take down the “Hold Me Down” when its platform is choc-a-block with similar cases of theft.

As much as technical loopholes might help alleged culprits like Lyta get away with blatant acts like these, we desperately need to curb the acceptance of unimaginative copying in Nigeria, and hold ourselves to a higher standard. At this time, “Hold Me Down” has crossed the million views threshold on YouTube, no doubt an effect of the controversy that came with it. Yet, within the wave of negative reactions, Lyta, Naira Marley and several fans have been relishing the increased popularity the video has generated. In the Nigerian entertainment space, we’ve come to accept the idea that all publicity is good publicity, when in plenty of cases, bad publicity takes its toll on the perception of an artist and takes some time to overturn – just ask Skiibii.

Lyta and his team might be riding high on the buzz he’s generated, but embracing such infamy at a point where he’s still proving himself ultimately says a lot about the relatively non-existent standards when it comes to brazen creative theft. With the examples listed above and all the other ones that have receded from memory, the mind-set that you can’t shame the shameless is what many have seemingly adopted. If the fact that creative theft is simply theft doesn’t appeal to our sense of moral duty, maybe we can see the damage within the framework of how Nigerian music will be perceived on the global stage if we’re not clamping down on it at home.

Of the vitriol-laced replies to the above-mentioned Naira Marley tweet, one that struck me the most said: “Is this the future of Nigerian music? Singers with no integrity or originality.” While we’ve been able to contain the cases of Nigerians allegedly taking from creatives within our community, unlicensed and bland copying from K-Pop giants and other similarly veiled acts will bring in international coverage that will cast a dark cloud of mistrust as these types of reports accumulate. For the sake of our growing creative industry, this is the time to stop coddling, enabling or tolerating plagiarism and copyright infringements in our music videos. Lest we welcome the coronation of a new ‘Nigerian Prince’.

Featured Image Credits: YouTube/Breakfast Club

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Dennis is not an interesting person. Tweet Your Favourite Playboi Carti Songs at him @dennisadepeter

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