World Book Day: NGO, Author Accuse Reuters, ITN of Copyright Infringement

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Uchechukwu Nnaike

In commemoration of this year’s World Book and Copyright Day with the theme ‘Securing Our Intellectual Property’ the Youth Orientation for Development (YOD), a UNESCO NGO, has thrown its weight behind an artist and author, Mr. Arthur Judah, who is seeking justice over copyright infringement by Reuters News Agency and the ITN.

The organisation is also calling on the government and the relevant agency saddled with the responsibility of enforcing the copyright law in Nigeria to do more by ensuring that all intellectual thieves are adequately punished according to the law and those whose works have been copied be adequately compensated.

According to the President of YOD, Ambassador Emmanuel Ejiogu, the event was to create awareness on the need to protect the works and rights of many writers and other creative artistes. “The attention on this day over the years has been limited to books and reading, but we have decided to turn our attention to the issue of copyright and intellectual property as this is an important issue of concern for writers and other creative artists in Nigeria.”

Narrating his experience, Judah, who was unjustly incarcerated for 16 years and spent nine years on death row, said he had to resort to painting to document life in prison.

“On the Gallows’, ‘Sorrows, Tears and Blood’, Shadows in the Dark’… so have I titled some of my past arts exhibitions and presentations showcasing drawings that I painstakingly with my sweat and blood did during the 16 calendar years I spent in unjust incarceration.

“My ‘On the Gallows’ works ‘so fondly called’ became part of my life and majorly voice in speaking out against the death penalty since 2000 that I left prison. Some of the drawings date back to 1987.”

He stressed that he owns copyrights to his works and never put a price tag to any of the drawings, as they are solely reserved for campaigns and never meant to be sold, electronically, hard copy and otherwise.

Judah said he started documenting his exhibitions and speaking engagements in 2006, but in 2007 he surprisingly discovered that his unfinished master tape video was missing in his studio.

“I couldn’t at the time find explanation for my missing video until seven years after that I stumbled on the missing video broken into clips by Reuters News Agency and selling on ITN website. Neither Reuters nor ITN had contacted me before distorting and commercialising my work. The damage done was huge.”

He regretted that the action of Reuters and ITN militated against the reasons why ‘On the Gallows’ campaign was in the first place given birth to.

“In reaction, I directed my lawyer to write Reuters and ITN which he did. In response it was ITN that wrote back first claiming not to be responsible for the theft of my work, but that it was only working for Reuters as archive keeper, it however dropped my work from its website and shifted blame to Reuters. The letter from ITN did not at all address the issue of compensation demand made by my lawyer neither of how my stolen work would be returned to me.”

According to his lawyer, Mr. Chiji Lebechi, the matter is currently in court, as his client is not satisfied with the response by Reuters which claimed that the owner had authorised the agency to publish and sell his work without getting anything in return.

He said Judah is determined to pursue the case until he is paid compensation for the damage.