Intellectual Property and Disability: The Indispensable Role of Music as a Comforter to the Autistic Child


About two months ago, I stumbled upon a video online of a young girl with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), singing aloud the chorus of the song titled “Finesse” written and sung by Pheelz, a renowned Afrobeat artist, songwriter and award-winning producer. What struck me wasn’t just her display of love for the song, but the way she sunk into a pool of joy and being able to connect emotionally with the wordings of the song and the message its chorus passed across. Her act showed that music, isn’t just about entertainment; it’s a powerful tool for educating, supporting and engaging mentally and emotionally, children with autism.

The impact of music goes far beyond just bringing joy, it enables people with disabilities tap into a space of positive energy and connect socially with those around them without fear of discrimination or inability to be considered capable of understanding the lyrics of a musical composition.
In recent years, the connection of Intellectual Property (IP) laws, music, and disability rights, have gained significant attention. Worthy of note, particularly, is the role of music as a catalyst for development, especially in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

This article takes a concise look into the global structure of intellectual property law concerning music and disability rights, focusing on how music serves as a bridge between autism and holistic development.


2. What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. People with ASD often have problems with social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviours or interests. They may also have different ways of learning, moving, or attentiveness.

Some notable conditions such as; delayed language skills, delayed movement skills, delayed cognitive or learning skills, hyperactive, impulsive, and/or inattentive behavior, epilepsy or seizure disorder, unusual eating and sleeping habits, gastrointestinal issues (for example, constipation), unusual mood or emotional reactions, anxiety, stress, or excessive worry, lack of fear or more fear than expected, restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests, etc., are some of the symptoms of people with autism spectrum disorder. These conditions could make life very challenging for people with ASD. It is important to note that some people without ASD may also have some of the symptoms of ASD.

People with autism spectrum disorder exhibit behaviours or have interests that seem unusual. These behaviors or interests set autism spectrum disorder apart from, conditions defined by problems related with social communication and interaction only.

3. Intellectual Property Law and Disability Rights

Globally, intellectual property laws are necessary in safeguarding the rights of individuals with disabilities, ensuring access to creative works, including music, in various formats. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) emphasizes the importance of ensuring that copyright frameworks do not hinder access to cultural goods and services for persons with disabilities.

Furthermore, initiatives like the Marrakesh Treaty, facilitate access to published works in accessible formats for the visually impaired and print-disabled individuals, thereby underscoring the nexus between intellectual property laws and disability rights. While there have been numerous measures that have been taken by international institutions, led by the United Nations, to foster equality, one issue that has received little attention till now has been what scholars have described as the book famine.

Statistics show that the number of published books available in formats accessible for the print-disabled people was less than 5% before 2013. However, 2013 was a landmark year in which the problem was tackled and the problem of scarcity of books available for persons with disability was solved.
In April 20, 2013 the Informal Session and Special Session of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) prepared a draft version of a text of a treaty with the aim of facilitate access of readable material to the visually impaired and persons with print disabilities. This was subsequently deliberated upon and adopted as the Marrakesh Treaty in the same year. About six hundred delegates from among one hundred and eighty-six member states of the World Intellectual Property Organisation joined in the debate which led to the adoption of the treaty in Morocco. India was the first nation to ratify the treaty in June 24, 2014 at the twenty-eighth session of the Standing Committee on the Copyright and Related Rights Act, 2000 in Geneva.

In September 30, 2016 the Marrakesh treaty came into force upon the formal gathering and adoption of the treaty by 20 countries.
The Treaty defines “beneficiary persons” as those affected by a range of disabilities that interfere with the effective reading of printed material. A broad definition includes people who are blind, visually impaired, or reading disabled, or persons with a physical disability such as autism spectrum disorder and other similar disabilities that prevents them from handling and reading a book. Countries are required to provide in their national copyright laws for limitation or exception to the right of reproduction, the right of distribution, and the right of making available to the public as provided by the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT), to facilitate the availability of works in accessible format copies for beneficiary persons. Member countries may also provide an exception or a limitation to right of public performance for access under this treaty.

Marrakesh treaty even provides for cross border exchange, distribution and availability of accessible format copies by an authorized entity to a beneficiary person or an authorized entity in another contracting party. The parties should allow the import and export of accessible format copies under certain conditions. The state parties even have obligations related to technological measures; they are to ensure that they provide adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies against the circumvention of effective technological measures.

3.1 Music as a Therapeutic Tool for Autism
Research consistently highlights the therapeutic benefits of music for individuals with autism. One theory is that music “selectively activates” neurochemicals associated with positive mood, attention and memory. Music therapy, characterized by structured musical interactions, has shown promising results in enhancing communication, social skills, and emotional expression in individuals on the autism spectrum.

The use of music therapy for people with learning disabilities has many benefits, and can help to improve communication, interaction and self-expression. Music therapy helps to empower people with autism spectrum disorder by offering them choices, increase motivation, encourage physical activity and coordination. It can also be used to learn new things at a young age. With the help of music, the children with autism can learn letters, numbers and more. Challenges children with autism encounter in the learning process can affect the child emotionally, behaviourally and physically.

But introducing music into their day-to-day activities helps improve their well-being. It has been shown that playing an instrument can help children with ASD or learning disabilities similar to autism, by increasing their attention span and their appetite for learning as well.

Music, has a powerful effect on everyone, but it can be used in an educational setting for children or adults with complex needs. Combining music with children or adults with complex education needs has many benefits, such as it aids bonding, creates multi-sensory experience, brings about self-motivation and regulation. Moreover, music-based interventions have been instrumental in addressing sensory sensitivities and promoting motor skills development among individuals with ASD. The inherent multisensory nature of music engages individuals with ASD mentally and physically, making it a powerful tool for holistic development.

3.2 Intellectual Property Protection of Music Therapy Techniques

Intellectual property protection deals with safeguarding the rights of creators and their creative works or inventions. Music therapy techniques are systemic methods or approaches used in the field of music therapy to help people with various challenges or disabilities.

Music therapy techniques are the methods or strategies that music therapists use during sessions to achieve therapeutic goals. These includes specific ways of using music, instruments, or even voice techniques to address physical, emotional, cognitive, or social needs of individuals with disabilities.
There exist four basic forms of music therapy namely; compositional music therapy, improvisation music therapy, receptive music therapy and re-creative music therapy.

While the benefits of the aforementioned forms/techniques of music therapy (whichever is employed) for individuals with autism are well-documented, the Intellectual Property structure surrounding music therapy techniques remains complex. Music therapists often develop proprietary techniques and interventions well-tailored to suite the unique needs of autistic persons and persons with similar disabilities.

The need to ensure adequate intellectual property protection for these techniques is important to incentivize innovation in the field of music therapy. Copyright law may protect original musical compositions used in therapy sessions, while trade secret law can safeguard confidential methodologies employed by music therapists in bringing about the best and maximized level of productive outputs from autistic persons.

Today in Nigeria, as in many other countries, intellectual property protection is important for ensuring that creators receive recognition and financial benefits from their creations. This protection can come in different forms, such as copyright, trademarks, or patents. When it comes to music therapy techniques, copyright is often the relevant form of protection. Copyright gives the creator the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and perform their work. So, if a music therapist develops a unique technique or method, they can copyright it to prevent others from using it without permission.

However, it’s worthy of note, that copyright protection doesn’t extend to ideas or concepts themselves, only to the specific expression of those ideas. So, while a music therapist can copyright their written materials, such as books or manuals describing their techniques, it may be more challenging to protect the techniques themselves. In practice, music therapists often rely on a combination of copyright protection for their written materials and trade secrets for their techniques.

Trade secrets involve keeping certain aspects of their methods confidential, such as specific processes or approaches they use in therapy sessions. Generally speaking, intellectual property protection for music therapy techniques in Nigeria, as in other places, involves a combination of legal strategies and practical considerations to ensure that therapists receive recognition and respect for their creative and therapeutic contributions.

3.3 Promoting Inclusive Music Education

It is well known that Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4, 8, and 10, focus on quality education, decent work and economic growth, and reduced inequalities, respectively. In light of this, the issue of promoting inclusive music education entails making sure that everyone, including children with autism, can benefit from learning music. This further means creating opportunities for all children, regardless of their abilities, to engage in music education.

The term inclusive, relatively means including everyone, not leaving anyone out. Hence, promoting inclusive music education is about making sure that persons with autism, and those who may have different needs or challenges, are not left behind or segregated.
Considering Sustainable Development Goal 4, which is about quality education for all and by promoting inclusive music education, ensuring that every child, including those with autism, have access to quality education that meets their needs to help them develop their talents, will be greatly actualized.

Intellectual property protection is indisputably about protecting the rights of people who create things, like music therapists who develop special techniques for helping children with autism through music. It’s like making sure that music therapists get the credit and support they deserve for their ideas and hard work. This relates with Sustainable Development Goal 8, which is about decent work and economic growth. The protection of the intellectual property of music therapists, will help create a fair and thriving economy where everyone can benefit from their talents.

Sustainable Development Goal 10, which bothers on reducing inequalities, will bring the society to understanding that the promotion of inclusive music education and protection of intellectual property, will help reduce inequalities by ensuring that persons with autism have the same opportunities to benefit from music therapy techniques as other persons. It’s about making sure that no one is left behind and that everyone has a fair chance to learn and grow.

Therefore, in simple terms, promoting inclusive music education and protecting intellectual property are important steps towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 4, 8 and 10 and ensuring a better future for all persons with autism and similar disabilities globally.
Accessible music education plays an important role in bringing about inclusivity for individuals with disabilities, including those with autism.

Intellectual Property laws play a crucial role in facilitating the creation and dissemination of accessible educational materials, ensuring that individuals with diverse learning needs can participate in music programs. More so, initiatives promoting Open Educational Resources (OER) and assistive music technology, contribute to the democratization of music education, empowering individuals with disabilities to explore their musical talents.


The combination of intellectual property laws, music, and disability rights, enlightens us on the remarkable capacity of music to serve as a conduit for the holistic growth of children with autism and similar disabilities.

Witnessing the sheer joy that emanates from that beautiful child referred to at the introductory part of this write up, as she sings, tapping into her mental prowess to grasp the essence of each melody, is a testament to the profound impact of music, music therapy and its power to enable persons with disabilities utilize their mental and learning faculties to the maximum level.

The essence of Intellectual Property laws lies not only in protecting the rights of creators but also in fostering an environment where innovation and creativity flourish. Likewise, the recognition of disability rights establishes the importance of inclusivity and accessibility in our present-day society. By creating an enabling environment that promotes innovation, accessibility, and inclusivity in music therapy, key role players in the educational sector can unlock the transformative potential of music in the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other similar disabilities.

Through collaborative efforts and a shared commitment to harnessing the therapeutic power of music, a way can be paved and laid down for the all-round development and social inclusion of this category of persons with special needs. Hence, the inclusion of music into the learning process of every person with special need, will increase the possibility of the creation of a world where every child, regardless of their abilities, finds joy, solace, and fulfillment through the universal language of music.


About the Author 

Israel Adebiyi Ayodeji
is an undergraduate student of law at Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti with a penchant for Commercial Law Dispute Resolution, Intellectual Property, Human Rights Law and Energy Law. Israel has been able to demonstrate interest in these areas of law through membership in related societies, internships, volunteering and participating in several seminars.

He can be reached via +234 906 4005 464 [email protected]

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