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from the it's-just-a-form-of-distribution dept Earlier this year, we wrote about Kevin Kelly's fascinating look at the movie industries of India, Nigeria and China, which represent the three largest film industries in the world. Yes, all three are larger than the US. And all three are places known for extremely widespread "piracy." Given that Hollywood insists that "piracy" kills the movie industry, it certainly seemed worth noting that these three countries had hugely thriving movie industries despite (or perhaps because of) widespread infringement. The Economist has an article looking much more closely at the Nigerian movie industry, known as Nollywood, which produces an astounding 50 new movies every week. Now, some will immediately point out -- correctly -- that these are much lower budget than our traditional Hollywood picture, but apparently, many of the movies have pretty good plots and acting -- and they seem to be doing pretty well across all of Africa (not just Nigeria). In fact, the report notes that the infringement may be a big part of why Nigerian films are so successful: The merchants curse the pirates, but in a way they are a blessing. Pirate gangs were probably Nollywood’s first exporters. They knew how to cross tricky borders and distribute goods across a disparate continent where vast tracts of land are inaccessible. Sometimes they filled empty bags with films when returning from an arms delivery. Often they used films to bribe bored guards at remote borders. The pirates created the pan-African market Mr Akudinobi now feeds. Once again, this is really a recognition of a point that has been many times around here: copyright infringement is often just a more efficient distribution system -- and if you can figure out how to use that distribution mechanism to your own benefit, you can be much better off. In fact, it sounds like many are doing that, and the massive success of Nigerian movies have opened up all sorts of new opportunities for movie makers: African diasporas in the West pay good money to see films from home. BSkyB, a British satellite broadcaster, and Odeon, a cinema chain, both show Nollywood classics. Consumer-goods companies offer sponsorship deals. That wouldn't be possible if the movies weren't getting so much attention. On top of that, for those who will continue to claim that the quality of these movies must suck, it appears that the quality is likely to improve. That's because with so much competition, moviemakers are looking to stand out from the crowd, and one way to do that is to improve your product. In other words, just as we've said for years, you've got a situation where competition is leading to innovation and higher quality, even in the absence of copyright protections... Funny, then, that some still insist that without copyright (or without strong copyright enforcement), no movie industry could exist.
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