Strengthening copyright laws

Seven container-loads worth billions of naira of suspected pirated books imported illegally from China were recently intercepted at the Apapa Wharf, Lagos by officials of the NCC in collaboration with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA). The seized containers were reportedly loaded with about 10,000 cartons of over 30 titles of mostly educational books, which copyright belongs to both foreign and local publishers including Macmillan, Longman, Penguin and Universal Press Limited (UPL).
In a similar anti-piracy operation, the NCC also swooped on the notorious Alaba International Market, Ojo, in a bid to tackle the growing trend of importing and marketing of hi-tech equipment for hacking or pirating encoded broadcast signals. In a recent press briefing, the Director-General of the NCC Barrister Afam Ezekude disclosed to newsmen that four suspected pirates were arrested at the just concluded Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). Operatives of the NCC acted on a tip-off by some professors who alerted NCC that some of the retail booksellers at the NBA conference venue were selling pirated copies of their works. Over N6billion worth of pirated books were seized by NCC between January and July this year.
Beyond book piracy and theft of intellectual property rights is internet and digital piracy in the country. The Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku recently observed that ‘terrorists’ had hijacked the nation’s cyberspace for their activities, prompting the federal government to initiative internet monitoring and access control laws. A bill to that effect, according to Mr Maku, was being sent to the National Assembly. As a consequence of weak surveillance mechanisms and ignorance on the part of copyright owners, so much money is lost by authors, actors, comedians and musicians to mushroom printers that pirate their works. Piracy is a criminal act and harmful culture that de-motivates creativity and ruins talents. In addition to short-changing publishers and producers, the crime also destroys the resources of creative individuals that could have been used for the growth of the nation’s economy. Apart from economic subversions, piracy equally tarnishes Nigeria’s image in the comity of nations, which further exposes the country to possible sanctions arising from its treaty obligations within the global trading system.   
The crime of piracy is persisting in Nigeria due partly to inability of the relevant government agency, the NCC, to fully enforce existing copyright laws. The high cost of published materials in the country arising from the huge cost of production is one economic factor that indirectly encourages piracy in the printing industry. Pirated copies of books and compact discs (CD) plates are, for instance, sold at prices less than fifty percent of the cost price of copies produced by the copyright owners. The desire to go for pirated materials could be curbed if copies produced by copyright owners are available at affordable prices. Limited number of distribution outlets also encourages piracy.
With a printing and publishing industry that is generally anti-copyright and pro-piracy, there is need for the NCC to fashion-out proactive operational strategies that will include enlightenment campaigns to educate copyright owners of their rights. The campaign should equally enlighten retail booksellers and CD plate marketers on the need to respect the right of authors and actors to earn from their sweat. The existing copyright laws should be examined with a view to strengthening them or replacing them if they are not efficacious enough to tackle the menace. While it is necessary for the NCC to be adequately empowered by law to prosecute pirates, strong deterrent penalties must be enacted and enforced on copyright violators. A reform of the existing copyright law would help to boost the sector; ensuring that those who are actually creative and have worked hard enjoy the fruits of their labour. The NCC is advised to devise a means of coding all finished products in the publishing and entertainment industries. A coordinated surveillance would equally help NCC to check activities of pirates in the country.
To make the cost price of published materials affordable, government should consider subsidy for newsprint through a special intervention fund with a view to reducing production cost. The NCC should partner with search engines, particularly Google, in order to tackle piracy and other copyright infringements in the Nigeria’s cyberspace. 

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