Wednesday, June 11, 2014 2:11 pm
Writer, academic and public affairs analyst, Professor Kole Omotoso tells NKRUMAH BANKONG-OBI about the damage piracy is doing to the Nigerian creative enterprise and how it can be curbed.
When did you notice that your book, Achebe or Soyinka: A Study In Contrasts, is pirated in Nigeria?
One day in Akure, Ondo State, I was looking for something to read. I just suddenly found that I didn’t have enough material to read. So I went out to look, not only at the bookshops [the bookshops just sell mainly textbooks]. I went to look for vendors who sell other books. I found The Travels of Marco Polo. I bought it and I bought another book on the Presidency of Umaru Yar’Adua which, in fact, I found out was a pirated edition. And then I saw a copy of my book. I looked at it and I was sure that it wasn’t the original copy of the book. I bought a copy of it, too. I called the publisher later to find out what the situation was. I asked him if he was aware of what was going on, whether he knew about the piracy of my book. He said, no. That was how I found out and then I started inquiring about the whole situation of publishing and printing in Nigeria and the fact that quite a lot of people are making their fortune simply printing, selling and distributing published books that happen to be on the syllabus either at the university level, secondary school or any of the examinations, or even books for professionals like engineers, doctors, architects and others. And then there was that cry from Tunde Kelani, the filmmaker, about how he has been ruined by the pirates, especially with his film, Maami. That’s what really got me into working. Mr. Moses Olaiya, also known as Baba Sala’s situation so affected me to a point that at one time, I tried to contact him, to see what can be done in his case. But he’s been ill and therefore, he is not in circulation. But my worry is: why is it that we don’t have any structure in the country that can help artistes who lose out in this kind of tragic situation. I don’t know what can be done, whether there can be any relief that can be provided for them. There is need to do something.
There is the duty regime that makes importers of books and book-related material pay high import duty for such products coming into the country. That encourages book piracy. Now, how can publishers, writers and all those in the book industry collaborate to curb the menace of piracy?
I don’t know the state of the publishing industry in Nigeria anymore. Years ago, in the 1970s when we started advocating for publishing locally, it was because we wanted books to be easily available and distributable in Nigeria rather than books being published in New York, Paris, London etc without our people being able to have access to them. At that time, the input either in terms of access to paper or anything else could be understood. You had to, maybe import paper, ink and others. But today, I believe there are good enough printing facilities in Nigeria but which are being under-utilised. There are people who are prepared to go overseas, either to Dubai, to South Africa or they go to China or Japan to print and then they fly them in. But the people who are doing that are not the regular publishers or writers. They are people who do one-off kind of publishing – publishers of maybe memoirs, biographies or the self-gratification kind of publishing. So, I’m more concerned about the artiste who has no resource or other forms of earning a living except through his filmmaking or writing. In other societies, we can say they have structures that help to fight piracy. The laws are very clear and they deal with the issue of piracy. So, the artiste earns whatever he deserves in terms of popularity or non-popularity of his work. But we know that in Nigeria it is not the same thing. What is it that can be done? I don’t know but I’m just crying out of that loss we’ve suffered with the careers of people like Baba Sala, Adeyemi Josiah Afolayan being ruined, and what the family of Hubert Ogunde has lost as a result of piracy.
There are some artistes in the film industry for example, who decide to explore the distribution of their works through the cinema before delving into compact disc production which are easy to reproduce by the pirates.
But the writer doesn’t have that option. A writer gives his or her book to the publisher, the publisher does the publishing. The Ministry of Education then decides that they want to use it as a text book for schools. Then, the pirates decide, ‘Oh! There is money here’ and they go after it. The Nigerian Copyright Commission, NCC, seizes containers on a regular basis but they don’t have the resources to warehouse those containers. They don’t have the resources, for instance, to pursue the pirates. For example, if they were to pursue the person who pirated my book, they would have to go to Akure, start investigation involving the police or other security agencies. All of these things cost money and the NCC is under-resourced, they can’t pursue the pirates.
But the publishers have an association and if they feel that that their business is threatened, they should collaborate with the NCC?
Well, the impression one gets is that yes, the NCC has worked with the publishers’ association. But then, the NCC discovers that there are people within those publishing companies who liaise with the pirates and then launder the original editions with the pirated ones and sell to the public. So, it is a very intricate and complicated kind of business. And because it is private business, can one ask that government or some institution help to compensate artistes who lose in this business? Is it a valid expectation from a democratic society? I don’t know. I’m not sure. But we have a unique situation in Nigeria that people who produce intellectual property are not benefitting from it. I was told of a particular pirated edition of one of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novels which carried the label “Beware of pirates, buy the original”. And these are pirates saying that. Writers like Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe and others lost millions of naira where you find, not only one but two, three pirated editions of their books. How long is this going to go on?
It appears, from what you are saying, that the more popular a book is, the more prone it is to be pirated?
Are you saying that we should devise a means of compensating artistes based on the popularity of their works, since they are more likely to be harmed by pirates?
I don’t know whether that is possible. That is what I’m saying. I used to think that the Nigerian Copyright Commission isn’t working. But speaking to somebody in the commission and getting the statistics on prosecution and conviction, I can no longer say that.
Are you convinced by what the NCC says? If you have 45 convictions for example, over a period of time in a country of over 160 million people, does that number of convictions satisfy you?
Yes, at least there are convictions. It is better now than that time when there was nothing done at all. For the first time, people are being taken to court and tried for piracy. But the punishment is so light that it doesn’t serve preventive purposes. It is not strong enough to make sure that people don’t do it again. Those caught can walk out with the 12 months or six months imprisonment term or a fine alternative, go home and do more harm. I don’t know whether it’s right to even say that we should have a commission which then compensates people whose works have been pirated. It doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. And it cannot exist in Nigeria. What needs to be done is that those who pirate intellectual property must be prosecuted vigorously and made to stop it.
But some people will be quick to say that the piracy of intellectual property is a reflection of the general lack of respect for laws in the country?