Austin Nwangwu

It is easy to dismiss the efforts being made to stem the scourge of piracy by saying that Nigeria’s developmental challenges are weightier than helping a few people to reap the reward of their intellectual work. With the focus on providing basic infrastructure for Nigerians to lead more fulfilling lives and businesses to operate optimally, piracy is seen as a distant threat. And that is if it is even at all considered a threat in the first place.

But it is a scourge that eats away at the fabric of the society and poses a great developmental challenge, indeed, as much as a dearth of infrastructure poses for meaningful existence. Piracy manifests in different forms, from the reproduction of the albums and films of Nigerian artists and Nollywood practitioners, to printing books and other literature without the permission of the copyright owner, and (re)broadcasting television content without a license to do so. In any of these instances, the original owner of the work is being cheated from earning adequate rewards for his efforts, the government is also losing potential revenue from taxation, and above all, the leakages are huge disincentives to greater output from the right owner and investment in facilities by government.

The music industry provides one of the most vivid examples of how piracy does not benefit anybody, not even the pirate. In a recent report released by the Recording Industry Association of America on the negative effect of piracy on the music industry in 2008, US$4.2 billion was estimated as the loss to pirates worldwide. This loss is felt by consumers who have to pay a higher premium to get original works, in a classic sense of diseconomies of scale. Honest retailers who stock up on original works also lose because pirated copies reduce their overall sales.

Record companies lose a lot of money to pirates because they invest a lot of money to produce all artists in their folds, and the big ticket earnings from the few successful artists are lost to piracy. The pirate also loses because he spends a lot of productive time and other resources to either evading law enforcement agents or getting out of jail when caught. And sadly, the artist loses because he does not earn income from his pirated work, making it difficult for further investment to be made in producing even greater works. There are no recent data on the effect of piracy on the music industry in Nigeria, but the losers are the same set of people.

The above scenario also plays out in the movie industry. When films are pirated, everybody in the industry loses, and that is why, for instance, many Nollywood practitioners are not adequately compensated for their industry. Nollywood, being the second biggest film industry in the world after Bollywood of India in the number of films produced and the third biggest globally in terms of value, earnings in the industry ought to be close to, if not more than most other film industries in other parts of the world. But this is not the case because few, if any of the practitioners in Nollywood earn what they deserve.

How much would Emem Isong’s hugely popular film, Guilty Pleasures, or 2Face’s multi-award winning album Face 2 Face, earn if they had been released in a system that rewards creativity? It is however easy to track how much Avatar, a similarly popular film released in the United States of America, earned in nine months.

Piracy is just as bad in the pay television industry. There are instances where operators beam content that they do not have the right, and this they do without compensating the content or right owners. Or when, as is rampant in Nigeria, pirates rebroadcast the content of pay television operators such as DStv and other licensed operators without the right to do so, do not intend to pay compensation to the operator, and worse still, carry on regardless of the illegality of their actions. This highly debilitating practice undermines the huge investments that have been made by operators, and could lead to the ruin of the industry.

Piracy indeed cuts across many other sectors such as the software industry where pirating operating systems and other programmes is rife. Needless to say that the products that are being pirated usually demand a lot of intellectual input, time and other resources to bring to fruition. What the pirate does is to circumvent all these processes to profit from the endeavours of others.

In stemming the scourge of piracy, it is not always a straight forward case of isolating each sub-sector so as to tackle the underlying factors that fuel the practice. For it could be the case that the pirate who is successful at copying the works of musicians may also deploy the same network in pirating movies, and extend the same dexterity to redistributing the content of pay television operators. An industry-wide coordinated approach is required, with a mix of suasion and enforcement to change attitudes as well as make piracy unattractive.

The underlying reason, as it has been reported, why people would rather patronise pirated products than the original works is that these products and contents are priced beyond the reach of the average consumer. Though the argument is simplistically attractive, the problem here is that if the inventor, promoter or investor is not adequately compensated for his efforts, there may be a disinclination to do more. Or when he sees pirates profiting from his efforts to his detriment, he may become so disenchanted that his creativity his stymied, and the investor unable to generate enough return to justify the investment.

Here, education is required, where a concerted public campaign is mounted to enlighten consumers about patronising original works, because by so doing, economies of scale could be engendered, thereby leading to a reduction in the cost of acquisition of original works.

But then, suasion is not always enough particularly when some element of criminality is involved. Vigorous enforcement of the laws guarding against infringement of intellectual property would serve as deterrence to pirates, helping to make this practice unattractive. In this regard, the relevant agencies need to be strengthened, and greater cooperation between industry operators and law enforcement agents will lead to a decline in the level of piracy in the country.

Piracy is not limited to Nigeria. However, many countries have shown that this scourge can be curbed. It could be greatly reduced with public educational campaigns to help to positively shift attitudinal trends and more robust law enforcement. Above all, a coordinated approach is required by operators and law enforcement agencies to stem the scourge before it ruins creativity and the industry.

Adewole Ojo is with XLR8 Limited, a communications consultancy.