Stamping Out the Scourge of Book Piracy

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Against the backdrop of the scourge of piracy which has been crippling creativity and intellectual growth of authors, experts in the book industry explained why it is imperative for the Nigerian Copyright Commission to be empowered and proactive so as to make the illicit business unattractive to perpetrators. Funmi Ogundare reports

Mr. Ohi Ojo , is an author who took to writing novels in 2018 because of his passion to impact lives and achieve literary success. He has so far written three books titled, ‘ Ikeke: The Home Return’, ‘Burden of Loyalty’, as well as ‘Boys Will be Boys’.

Being a rookie, he never allowed this to discourage him, still he invested so much effort, time and resources in putting the literary pieces together. Ojo’s first book, ‘Ikeke: The Home Return’, published in 2018, was recently approved for use by the Lagos State Ministry of Education for JSS two students.

For someone in his shoes, his joy knew no bounds when he saw that his book made the 2020/2023 list of those published by the Lagos State Ministry of Education, when selected books are to be used.

The implication is that the book has gone through the ministry’s Curriculum Services Department having found it worthy in content and in line with the national curriculum and Lagos State unified schemes of work.

Now on his fourth book, Ojo’s morale for writing dropped when he learnt of the activities of pirates who have taken over the market, as he may not be able to break even, despite his investment on it.

Investigation by THISDAY revealed that piracy has discouraged authors from writing more books, as their intellectual property are being reproduced by people for economic reasons without prior consent or authorization . Poor quality books are being pushed into the market, thereby resulting in loses for the publishing industry.

Ojo told THISDAY that though he was happy that his book was one of those selected by the ministry of education for use by students for the second term, but when it dawned on him that he needed to produce copies of the book, he felt discouraged learning that piracy would make him incur loses.

According to him, ” I was happy that my very first attempt into writing, was accepted for use by a very competitive state like Lagos. After the initiatial euphoria, it dawned on me that I needed to go further, even among competitors. With the quality of my work, I asked myself if I could break even with it. The quality of my print was quite different and high, so I can now imagine how much competiting titles will be sold.

” I examined the fact that many students are looking for the cheaper one. I wouldn’t blame them. If you are buying four books at N1,000, why spend that amount for three books? So the challenge for me is that why should I go and incur a loss or why will I bring down the quality of my product because I want to meet the demand of the target audience?”

Ojo who is the Head, Lagos Liaison Office/Training School, National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), said once the pirates discover that the book is recommended, they just want to help themselves with the finished work.

“That is the kind of news I am hearing and I am discouraged. There should be some forms of financial benefit to encourage me, so that I can keep on writing while marketing and distribution will be done by other people.”

He said authors should get paid as many times as anybody picks up a copy of their books, while expressing concern that piracy kills the morale of writers.

“I was told of a story of an experienced writer who was complaining about some of the titles of books he had seen , now imagine somebody who has tasked himself to write, and he is not getting any financial benefit, he wouldn’t be encouraged.

“Honestly, I am feeling discouraged to write more. Yes the euphoria of writing the book, found okay and listed by the Lagos State Government is a huge achievement, but after that, what next ? It’s discouraging. It’s like I shouldnt take any further steps. The challenge is how would this children learn from what God has endowed one with? Will I keep what I have from reaching these students because I don’t want to lose? It’s a moral burden.I am sure many authors feel the same.”

Ojo described piracy as a global pandemic, adding that piracy of books, is as bad as those of music titles.

“You go on the street and buy a CD for N100, how would the musician make money? People just buy these things on the street. From just one copy, they make more copies. The Nigerian society is almost lawless, anything goes and creativity is reduced. For the late Prince Nico Mbarga of ‘Sweet Mother’ fame, if that was the only song he did and there is no piracy, no member of that man’s family, will ever be poor because every single time anybody is eulogising their mother, they will play the music. Anytime it’s International Mothers Day, the song will be played.

“Unfortunately, the man died a poor man. I don’t want to be like that . So why would you want to put in so much effort to write or sing when pirates are the ones making all the money! It is a sad story and its even worse when you are experiencing it, ” he stressed.

The President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and a Professor of English, University of Ilorin, Kwara State, Olu Obafemi affirmed that piracy is inimical to creativity and intellectual growth.

“The fact that you labour hard and write under very hard conditions, published them under hard economic conditions and then somebody takes the benefit even before you have begun to pay the cost of your work, can be very discouraging. Even at the print or film level, we found out that piracy has been the enemy of intellectual property.

It creates despondency and hurts actors and even those of us who are writers.”

He appealed to government to help in stamping out the scourge of piracy while expressing concern that inspite of all the efforts been made by the Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC), it has not been able to bend the determination of pirates and their syndicates to rob intellectual property workers of the benefits of their work.

“When you go under the bridges of Lagos, you find your books pirated with bad contents. You definitely will have a sense of defeat. Definitely, it has a discouraging impact and creates despondency. We need to continue to urge government to defeat piracy as we can never give in to pirates. The culture of creativity must continue, ” Obafemi said.

Head, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Africa, Toru-Orua (UAT), Bayelsa State, Nigeria; Professor Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma said the major challenge debilitating authorship in Nigeria is self-publishing , noting that one pays the bill for publishing one’s books and shoulders the burden of distribution.

Pirates cash in on this lacuna, as far as such books sell or are in very high demand. He said two of his plays, ‘Dance on his Grave’ and ‘A Matter of Honour’, have been in the secondary school syllabus of Literature -in-English in Bayelsa State, for close to 20 years, adding that the Ministry of Education does not out-rightly buy copies to supply to students, as one would have expected.

“Thus, it is difficult for authors like me to meet up the demand; and it creates good business opportunity for the unscrupulous pirates.”

He recalled another experience with his groundbreaking work on the Nigerian film industry, ‘Trends in Nollywood: A Study of Selected Genres’, which was sold on Amazon and African Books Collective.

Ayakoroma who was a former Executive Secretary of NICO said the soft copy of his book, which he did not have, was produced without due negotiations with him, as the author, adding that he is yet to receive royalties for such online sales of print and soft copies.

“I know that many authors are undergoing such bitter experiences. If a book is written by a very important personality, the book will be on high demand; and such a book will definitely be a target for pirates. Also, if a book is on high demand, pirates will cash in on the business opportunity. A case in point is former President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s ‘My Transition Hours.”

He expressed concern that many Nigerians never bother about the quality, as far as it is a replication of the original work, adding, “on the other hand, the fact is that piracy also increases the circulation of creative works.
The Don stressed the need for the publishing industry to be re-invented and NCC to be empowered and more proactive in making the business of piracy unattractive to the perpetrators.

Most publishers in Nigeria are merely operating like printers, as Ayakoroma said, “Ideally, a publisher should assess the quality of manuscripts, their prospects in the market and come out with marketing plans. Under this arrangement, such authors just receive royalties for their works, according to the actual sales.

“For instance, I have two books that have been in publishing houses since 2020, because I am yet to settle the costs for printing. Of course, we know that this is not the case in advanced publishing culture. The bottom line is that once books are readily available in bookshops and other outlets, piracy will be ameliorated to a large extent.”

THISDAY checks reveal that Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), an agency set up by the government and saddled with the responsibility of monitoring, administering and enforcing copyright laws; and ensuring proper implementation of set out rules and regulations, is already taking a step in the right direction having realised its challenges.

It recently partnered with the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) to boost copyright protection through joint enforcement actions in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, to curb street hawking of copyright works like books, CDs, VCDs and DVDs.

During a consultative meeting, the management of the commision and the board reiterated that street sales of copyright materials were illegal and would be checked in line with the relevant copyright and environmental laws.
The Director-General of NCC, Mr. John Asein expressed displeasure at the indulgence of persons posing as newspaper vendors, but in actual fact engaged in street sale of pirated books.

“This unwholesome practice of selling copyright works on the streets is an open show of lawlessness which portrays a negative image of the country. Most of the people engaged in this illegal activity use the sales of newspapers and magazines as a decoy to perpetrate acts of copyright piracy.”

He said with the synergy between two government agencies, the commission would be taking appropriate steps to secure the destruction of the pirated materials already confiscated, adding that this would serve as a model for other Nigerian cities in its renewed effort to clamp down on piracy at every level and bring the needed relief for copyright owners.

The Director-General of AEPB, Dr. Hassan Abubakar said the call for partnership was a renewal of an existing inter-governmental synergy between both government agencies, considering that the AEPB had been clamping down on the activities of book hawkers and sellers of CDs, VCDs and DVDs on the streets of Abuja. He noted that such raids by AEPB operatives had resulted in large seizures while the offenders were being prosecuted for environmental nuisance.

He directed that the board’s enforcement operatives should team up with the commission’s copyright inspectors to embark on immediate and sustained inter-agency enforcement interventions against street trading of copyright protected works.

The Director of Operations, NCC, Mr. Obi Ezeilo confirmed to THISDAY that due to its financial and human resources challenges, the commision has mapped out different strategies in curbing the scourge through collaborations with state governments.

” Because of these, we may not be able to effectively comb the nooks and cranies to take out pirated material. We are also developing relationship with a similar environmental agencies in different states of the nation. Aside that of the street, we are also trying to work with market associations who have taskforce in the states to target markets and bookshops with pirated books. It will be easier because you will reduce the amount of force needed in carrying out the operations.”

He disclosed that the commission just started the online inspection copyright unit because, “we found out that a lot of usage of people’s works have gone online. Due to complaints of copyright, we have set up online police when it comes to copyright infringement.”

Their responsibility, Ezeilo noted, will be to investigate websites, blogs and apps that violate copyright materials.

” We are going to look for the owners of the websites and URL, arrest them and carry out destructive activities. For us, if the website owners are responsible, we are most likely to give them notice to remove those things that were pirated, ” the director said.

To achieve this, he said the commission has also opened collaborations with National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and Nigeria Communications Communication(NCC) as the facilities for blocking the websites, do not reside with the commision , but those who manage the internet space, adding that it has commenced training of officers involved.

“There was a training organised by the US department of Justice, last month. There was another training by ISPI, It is not going to be quite easy because it is a new thing we have started. We needed to build their capacity to do this work, “Ezeilo said.