Intellectual property theft, like a diamond, has many faces. It could be the turn of a phrase in poetry or the meticulous duplication of a catchy riff in a song; the thing that makes you think, “I’ve heard this somewhere before. It is the same but different.”
A lot of the time it isn’t even that adroit. It is the product of someone’s talent, plagiarized completely by another with all the subtlety of a plane crash. And then there’s piracy, best practiced in the infamous stalls of Lagos’ Alaba market, bursting with CDs and DVDs that come from everywhere but the hands that made the content they hold. The creative’s profits delivered into the pocket of another aided by a computer with a disc drive.
They are brave in the face of the law. As the rapper Vector tha Viper mused to CNBC Africa, “I’ve always wondered why the Nigerian government has not found a way to merge with them (Alaba Market). It’s the only way to truly measure the sales of what the industry produces.” It would not be far-fetched to say that if there is anything that stands in the way of Nigeria’s soon to be $8 billion entertainment industry according to PWC, it is the people who laugh in the face of the country’s inability to enforce its copyright laws.
“The Nigerian Copyright Act is one of the best in the world.” Said Obafemi Agaba, a partner at Jackson, Etti, and Edun, a firm that’s thought to be one of the best in the country when it comes to intellectual property. An expert in his field, he isn’t wrong. The law has been amended twice since 1938, a detail that seems unremarkable until you consider that Nigeria’s Trademark law is exactly as it was nearly 80 years ago, a relic from 1938. And there’s a digital sized update on the way. Agaba was a member of the technical working group that drafted the new copyright bill. In an interview with CNBC Africa he said, “The important thing about the new bill is that it provides for what you call the technology era. The present law does not take care of things that happen in the digital space. The new bill has been able to address this.”
Some members of the Nigeria’s entertainment industry believe that the problem lies not with the law but with people’s knowledge of it, and their faith in the legal system’s ability to defend it. Femi Oke, the Head of Commercial at the Temple Management Company said, “It’s down to the individual and individual awareness. It’s down to respecting individual creativity and not overstepping the bounds.” He later said, “People disregard these laws and feel that not much can be done if they take someone else’s work and only change a word or two.” However, this perception seems to be changing.
Last week, local newspapers were awash with reports about a film called Okafor’s Law. Its premiere screening was cancelled because of a pending claim in court that the movie’s script had been stolen from a Nigerian writer in Canada without compensation or accreditation. The claim was ultimately unsuccessful in blocking the film’s release but it signalled a previously unseen willingness from the affected to seek legal action in cases where they believed their rights infringed. As a result, the much-uttered phrase, see you in court, has gained more weight than it had before.
However, there is a degree of unwillingness from artists to deal with such incidents personally. The Afropop star, Patoranking, said, “All I want to do is go to the studio record, jump on stage, perform, talk to fans on social media, and take selfies with the girls. The fun part. So we need people to be in charge of the business part because you can’t do everything.” Obi Asika, the founder of Cabal entertainment agrees. He said, “A lot of artistes in Nigeria say they can do it on their own, and they use Jay Z as an example. But I say have you been to the Roc Nation building? There is 75 staff there, working in a serious 9-5 to get things done.”
For Obafemi Agaba, the informal nature of the industry is to blame. He said, “I’ve seen a lot of script writers come to me after they’ve got their fingers burnt and I have had to resolve the problem behind the scenes instead of the scriptwriter or creative player negotiating from a point of strength right from the beginning. So many are just operating on a friendly basis. They say, “Oh he’s my pal, let me just give him this story.” But things happen!”
To deal with the pirates of the entertainment industry, Nigerian creatives have all but turned their backs on making physical copies of their work. Yoruba pop music sensation, Olamide said, “Right now. It’s online.” Phyno, who hails from Nigeria’s east provided more detail. When speaking about selling physical records he said, “It isn’t what it’s supposed to be. Mediums like iTunes, Spotify, tidal, and amazon, pay.” He too blamed the culture saying, “It’s an educational process. We need to make people understand that music is not free.” Dare Olaitan, the writer and director of the critically acclaimed new film, Ojukokoro, has no plans to release his movie on DVD when it leaves the cinema. He said, “The plan is to follow the other avenues of distribution. Video on Demand (VOD), airlines, paid television, and then terrestrial tv. In that order. I have no plans to release DVDs.” When I asked him why not, he was curt. “The others are forms of release in which we can have security in getting returns on our investment.”
As bleak as the situation seems, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The Copyright Society of Nigeria was set up at the turn of the new millennium to promote and protect the copyright of players in Nigeria’s music industry. The body has tackled intellectual property theft with a sea of lawyers and a storm of litigation, slapping telecommunications giants MTN and Etisalat with lawsuits worth N16 billion and N12 billion respectively. Their crusade is one Vector is glad for. He said, ‘I have to shout out to COSON because I’ve gotten royalty checks and they were quite impressive. At one point I thought, “you want to give me a check for Royalties, um, why?’ Because it’s never happened before.’
Obi Asika has called for artistes to join the copyright crusade. He said, “We need to get the artistes now, when they are young and hot, to promote the importance of copyright, because when they’re older and they don’t have any hit records, it may be the residual income from publishing or royalties that’s keeping them going.”
Players in the industry look to Nigeria’s government for help. In the words of the President of the Association of Nollywood core producers, Alex Enyeho, “What we expect from the government is to create an enabling environment for us to practice our trade.”