Nothing can be more disheartening for writers and artistes than to see their works being pirated and sold on the streets of major cities unchallenged. From Lagos to Sokoto and from Enugu to Port Harcourt, the story is the same. Vendors of pirated audio and video CDs and DVDs publicly display their merchandise with impunity and the law enforcement agents appear helpless. The same goes for books and printed materials. The absence of any coherent strategy to deal with the problem is killing creativity in the country.
Authors, publishers, producers and artistes spend a lot of time, money and effort to produce such intellectual works. Yet within a few hours, and with relatively cheap electronic equipment, the pirate, working from the comfort of his house, can make thousands of copies of such painstaking works. These unscrupulous characters thereafter sell the pirated works for a fraction of the price pegged by the authentic producer or author. Apart from the huge financial losses incurred by the owners of the intellectual property, nothing kills creativity as fast as piracy.
There is no gainsaying the benefits literary and artistic works have brought Nigeria. Our country has produced the late Professor Chinua Achebe (the author of the globally acclaimed ‘Things Fall Apart’), Professor Wole Soyinka, (the first African to win a Nobel prize in Literature as far back as 1986), and award winning writers like Ben Okri and Chimamanda Adichie, among others. These literary giants have helped to put Nigeria on the global map. Today, Nollywood, said to be the second largest movie industry in the world, has in no small measure helped export Nigeria to the world. Who knows how many Achebes and Soyinkas have been forced to quit writing on account of the activities of pirates? Today, it is not uncommon to find several celebrated writers and artistes living in penury as pirates ride piggy-back on their intellectual works to fortune.
The Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC), the body empowered by law to deal with copyright issues in Nigeria, has made remarkable gains in the area of fighting piracy. At the occasion of the 2015 World Book and Copyright Day, Mr Afam Ezekude, NCC Director General announced that the commission had publicly burnt 722 million copies of pirated musical, literary and film works valued at N6.5 billion. He further disclosed that 235 surveillance operations were carried out in 2014, in addition to 203 strategic anti-piracy operations leading to the arrest of 443 suspected pirates.
Unfortunately, given the huge gains to be made and the enormous resources at their disposal, the pirates are fighting back. For every book or CD the NCC destroyed, the pirates, it would seem, produced 10. Armed with ever-changing cutting-edge technology, the pirates appear to be one step ahead. The laws have not helped matters. Most of the copyright laws were passed during the analogue era of audio and video tapes. With such technology as MP4 and several computer and mobile telephone applications like Facebook, Youtube, WhatsApp, Instagram, to name a few, sharing pictures, audio and video files is just a click away.
Piracy is an ill-wind that blows no good. To fight this scourge we need to strengthen the enabling laws and seek more efficient ways to track and punish offenders. Also, the NCC should be better funded to be ahead of the pirates. Above all, the people also need more enlightenment on what damage they do to creativity when they patronise pirated works. Engaging the consumers of pirated works will therefore be a good starting point for the NCC.