Navigating the Legalities of Biopics and Biographies in Nigeria

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Allen and Brooks Biopic & Biographies Article



Biopics and biographies are powerful storytelling mediums that delve into the lives of influential and inspirational individuals, offering insight into their journeys, challenges, and triumphs.  In recent times, biopics and biographies have surged in popularity, captivating audiences with their intimate portrayals of real-life figures and events. Biopics are a genre of film that tell the story of a person’s real life – or at least a part of that life that is historically important or interesting. Biographies are detailed accounts of an individual’s life written by someone else, chronicling significant events, achievements, and experiences to provide a comprehensive understanding of that individual’s life story. In Nigeria, a country steeped in rich cultural heritage and historical significance, these storytelling mediums play a crucial role in preserving and celebrating the lives of notable figures. Behind the allure of these compelling narratives lies a complex web of legal considerations and ethical dilemmas. From securing life rights and navigating privacy concerns to ensuring factual accuracy and avoiding defamation, the creation of biopics and biographies demands a meticulous approach. This article explores the intricate legal landscape surrounding biographical storytelling in Nigeria, delving into the rights, responsibilities, and challenges faced by filmmakers and authors alike.

Legal Framework for the Protection of Biopics and Biographies in Nigeria.

Biopics and Biographies fall under works that are eligible for copyright and as such are protected by the provisions of the Copyright Act, 2023.

Section 2(1) of the Act stipulates that, subject to the Act, the following works are eligible for copyright:

(a) literary works;

(b) musical works;

(c) artistic works;

(d) audiovisual works;

(e) sound recordings;

(f) broadcasts.

Furthermore, Section 2(2) asserts that literary, musical, or artistic works are not eligible for copyright unless:

(a) some effort has been expended to give the work original character; and

(b) the work has been fixed in a medium of expression known or later developed, from which it can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated.

(3) Any work that meets the requirements set out in subsection (2) shall be eligible for copyright, notwithstanding the quality of the work or the purpose of the work.

Flowing from the above, it can be deduced that once an individual has exerted efforts to give a work an original character, he/she becomes the owner of such literary or audiovisual work. The question of ownership rights of biopics and biographies is fundamental as the challenge lies in determining originality since the ideas or facts are often derived from the public domain and are not inherently original to the author. Herein lies the concept of life rights.

The Concept of Life Rights

Life rights are legal permissions that control how a person’s life story (subject of the story), including their name, image, and personal experiences, can be used for commercial gain.

A life rights agreement (sometimes referred to as a life story agreement) is a legal contract where one party(often an individual or an estate of the deceased subject) grants permission and potentially receives compensation from another party (usually a producer or writer) to develop their life story into a creative work, such as a film, book, or play.

The concept of life rights agreement is beneficial to the person whose life story is going to be portrayed, as it gives the individual a measure of control on how their story will be portrayed while also protecting the author from any possibility of being sued for defamation or inaccurate information. The essence of obtaining life rights include the  following;

1. Protection from legal actions by the Subject

A life rights agreement can include provisions that prevent the subject from suing for potential damages to their character thereby providing legal security for the author. 

2. Cooperation and Access

Having the  cooperation of the subject or their estate can enhance the authenticity of the portrayal, as they can provide first-hand accounts and insights into the events depicted. Additionally, they can facilitate access to crucial third parties, locations, and significant documents, enriching the project with authentic details.

Privacy Rights of the Estate of a Deceased Subject

The right to privacy is a fundamental right that is enshrined in Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution. Privacy entails the right of an individual to keep their personal life or information confidential. Authors of biographies or producers of biopics must obtain consent from either the individual (if living) or the estate of the deceased to avoid infringing on these rights.

For instance, the recent biopic “Funmilayo Ransome Kuti,” produced by Bolanle Austen-Peters and released in May 2024, portrays the life of Funmilayo Ransome Kuti. The producer Bolanle Austen Peters in a press release on the 20th day of November, 2021 announced that her production company, Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions had secured the rights to produce the biopic on the legend from the Estate of Funmilayo Ransome Kuti demonstrating respect for privacy rights[1].

The Issue of Defamation in Biopics/ Biographies

Defamation involves communicating false statements about a person that harm their reputation. In Nigeria, defamation laws protect individuals from false statements that could damage their reputation.

Section 375 of the Criminal Code Act, provides that any person who publishes any defamatory matter is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for one year; and any person who publishes any defamatory matter knowing it to be false, is liable to imprisonment for two years.

To mitigate the risk of defamation claims, accuracy is paramount. Authors and filmmakers must ensure that their works are well-researched and factual. Misrepresentations or false allegations can result in legal battles and potential damages. Therefore, authors and filmmakers must tread carefully to balance storytelling with factual integrity, as both libel (written defamation) and slander (spoken defamation) are legally actionable.


Biopics and biographies offer a compelling lens into the lives of remarkable individuals, enriching our understanding of history and culture. However, navigating the legal and ethical considerations surrounding them is crucial. Ensuring copyright ownership, respecting privacy rights, avoiding defamation, and potentially utilising life rights agreements are all essential steps in responsible storytelling. As Nigeria’s vibrant film industry, Nollywood continues to grow, a clear legal framework that balances artistic expression with the protection of individuals and their estates is vital. Achieving this will allow filmmakers and authors to create compelling biopics and biographies while safeguarding the legacies of those whose stories inspire us.


If you are considering producing a biopic or biography or you have any further questions or require legal guidance, kindly contact us. Our experienced team is available to assist you in navigating the complexities of intellectual property law, ensuring your project is both legally sound and creatively successful. Reach out to us at [email protected] for a consultation.


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