There is need to strengthen enabling laws to fight the scourge of piracy

To honour the day William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, and several prominent authors died, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1995 recognised April 23 every year as the World Book and Copyright Day. On such a day as this, therefore, it is important to advance the protection of intellectual property in a country where the creative and knowledge industries are increasingly undervalued. This is in spite of the benefits that literary and artistic works have brought Nigeria. Our country has produced the late Professor Chinua Achebe (the author of the globally acclaimed ‘Things Fall Apart’, Professor Wole Soyinka, (the first African to win a Nobel prize in Literature as far back as 1986), and award-winning writers like Ben Okri and Chimamanda Adichie, among others.

However, in Nigeria today, the publishing industry is not only suffering under the weight of piracy and other copyright abuses but the return on investment is barely sufficient to guarantee its sustainability. Understandably, the threats posed by the digital environment would easily overwhelm a copyright system that was designed for an analogue world. Hence the need for a total overhaul of the regulatory and administrative framework of our copyright system in line with global best practices and the country’s international obligations under the relevant treaties. Who knows how many Achebes and Soyinkas have been forced to quit writing on account of the activities of pirates? Today, it is not uncommon to find several celebrated writers and artistes living in penury as pirates ride piggy-back on their intellectual works to fortune. 

There is therefore the need to fight the scourge of piracy that has become a serious epidemic in our country. Authors, publishers, producers and artistes spend a lot of time, money and effort to produce such intellectual works. Yet within a few hours, and with relatively cheap electronic equipment, the pirate, working from the comfort of their house, can make thousands of copies of such painstaking works. These unscrupulous characters thereafter sell the pirated works for a fraction of the price pegged by the authentic producer or author. Apart from the huge financial losses incurred by the owners of these intellectual properties, nothing kills creativity as fast as piracy. 

More disturbing is that huge intellectual theft goes on daily in full public glare. Most of the people behind the crime are also known to the authorities. But they continue because there is no serious commitment to fighting piracy. Armed with ever-changing cutting-edge technology, the pirates appear to be one step ahead. To fight this scourge, we need to strengthen the enabling laws and seek more efficient ways to track and punish offenders. Also, the Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC) should be better funded. Above all, the people also need more enlightenment on what damage they do to creativity when they patronise pirated works.  

Meanwhile, the enforcement of rights must not be left to government agencies alone. Industry practice and internal mechanisms must be recalibrated while co-operations across all the subsectors should be encouraged. Working with other stakeholders, the NCC should intensify its public awareness and education programmes and assist in building a more functional and responsive copyright ecosystem.  

As Nigeria joins the rest of the world today, UNESCO has underscored the essence of the World Book and Copyright Day as one meant to promote reading, publishing, and copyright. “It is a time to celebrate the importance of reading, foster children’s growth as readers, and promote a lifelong love of literature and integration into the world of work” UNESCO charges. “Through reading and the celebration of World Book and Copyright Day, 23 April, we can open ourselves to others despite the distance, and we can travel thanks to the imagination.” 

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