The news that President Muhammadu Buhari is set to intervene and save Nollywood from pirates is indeed one of the most cheering in recent times. President Buhari ordered security agencies to identify those involved in copyright violations, their sponsors and collaborators, and bring them to justice. President Buhari reportedly said, “Nollywood is making progress. Unless they are backed, they will be ruined by pirates who want to reap where they have not sowed.”
From the President’s statement, however, it is clear that the emphasis is on Nollywood, which refers to the country’s movie industry. However, we urge the President to go beyond Nollywood because the country’s music industry and the entire entertainment industry are also suffering the same fate. Pirated CDs, VCDs, and DVDs are circulated around Nigerian markets and are hawked with impunity. In many instances, the pirated works get to the market when the copyright owners are still making plans for the release of their works, resulting in huge revenue loss to the copyright owners. If serious action is not taken the entire entertainment industry may collapse.
With the height the entertainment industry has attained, no responsible government will allow it to collapse. The entertainment industry – Nollywood, music, comedy and theatre – contributes about ₦9 trillion to Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) and creates both direct and indirect employment for thousands of Nigerians. The industry is ranked third globally in terms of quality of production and gross earnings and first in terms of quantity of works produced. The industry has also contributed in no small measure in projecting the image of the country. But this exponential growth can be reversed if the severe threat posed by piracy is allowed to prevail.
We commend the resilience of the stakeholders in the entertainment industry who have continued to keep the sector alive despite the challenges. They have also not relented in their campaign against piracy. But there is little they can do if there is no institutional support. Nigeria has appropriate laws to curb piracy but the problem has always been a lack of enforcement. The Copyright Act, 2004, contains minimum standard of protection of intellectual property rights in the country while the Copyright (Optical Discs Plants) Regulation, 2007, which regulates the operation and manufacturing of optical discs in Nigeria is intended to address the problem of optical discs piracy from the point of production. The National Films & Video Censors Board also has a joint regulatory task force which includes NCC to help check video piracy. So we believe the place to begin is for government to enforce all relevant laws against piracy and culprits should be brought to justice to serve as deterrent to others.
In 2005, the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), the agency responsible for copyright administration in Nigeria, initiated a national anti-piracy campaign called Strategic Action Against Piracy (STRAP) to combat the menace of piracy. The battle against piracy usually takes the form of confiscation of pirated CDs, VCDs, DVDs, as well as CD duplicating machines, printers, printed CD jackets and other contrivances used for the illegal activities. Even at that this form of battle has slacked in recent times. The relevant agencies need to wake up to their responsibilities.
In our view, the country needs to adopt a multipronged approach in dealing with the piracy scourge. One way is to critically regulate the video rental business whose operators make huge resources by renting out videos at a fee without any form of payment to the copyright owners. This is despite the existence of the Copyright (Video-Rental) Regulations, 1999, which mandates the accreditation of all persons engaged in the business of video/film rental by NCC.
Another critical area which government should look into in the fight against piracy is the international market. The absence of bilateral and multilateral cultural agreements with many countries in Africa has given rise to illicit trade in pirated works across borders. Nigerian pirated videos are being marketed in many African and Asian cities where Nigerian home videos and music are in hot demand. The financial benefits of this illicit trade go to the pirates.
The industry also suffers exploitation through the new internet technology. Nigerian videos are distributed to national and international audience without permission or licence and without the payment of royalties to the producers of the videos. This form of online piracy is on the rise but most perpetrators do not consider it piracy because they offer the videos free for visitors to their sites to download. But the fact remains that they use such to generate traffic and earn advertisement revenue at the expense of the owners of the videos. So, government will have to engage technology strategist to devise ways to check online piracy in order to save the entertainment industry. Buhari’s government should therefore go all the way to ensure that copyright owners enjoy the fruits of their labour and investment. This is not a task for the security agencies alone. We can no longer continue to allow pirates to go away with a crime that jeopardises the country’s entertainment industry.