Research Of Whether Content Consumers Are The Key To Ending Piracy In A Digital Age

In 2014, a popular Nigerian filmmaker and cinematographer Tunde Kelani suffered a huge blow in the hands of pirates when pirated versions of his movie Maami went into circulation barely 48 hours into the release of the original. A dumbfounded Tunde Kelani had to resort to social media campaigns to alert the public to the development, pleading with lovers of quality contents to shun the pirated versions. His ordeal sparked off a fierce conversation around the negative effects of piracy to the creative industry, but five years down the line, has anything changed? The evolution of technology has enhanced the reach and spread of creative contents to billions of people across the globe. But in the process, it has also contributed to making a considerable mess of intellectual property as pirates suck out the juicy rewards due to creatives by reproducing and transmitting their brainchild with neither copyright request nor permission.

Today, more than ever before, the creative industry is facing the full might of an illegal trade that was previously confined to local borders. Piracy is now an illicit international trade because of the interconnectedness that comes with the digital age. Every day, millions of people stream movies online while others download and distribute songs and videos online and offline without paying any fee for the content. Internationally, broadcasting industries are feeling the bite of piracy. Bein Sports in 2018 launched a $1 billion suit against Saudi Arabia following widespread claims that the country openly supports Saudi-based pirate TV channel, beoutQ illegally selling beIN’s set-top boxes. In Ukraine, it has been revealed that only 6-7% of Ukrainians pay for legal content on the internet. In Germany, £700 million is lost to TV piracy annually. Also, in the world piracy statistics, India ranks top on the list of nations with the most numbers of illegal content streaming and downloads while Nigeria is tenth in Africa. These illegal downloads and streaming have cost companies like Netflix, HBO, Warner and Lionsgate billions of dollars in revenue.

To many consumers, the act of streaming and downloading movies and songs looks like one of the many supermarket good deals. But this is nowhere near such. Many have even argued that their use of contents without payment causes no harm to anyone. But in the truer scheme of things, piracy has a far-reaching effect on the entertainment industry and how contents are created. The activities of pirates dry up the wells of economic advancement through the revenues they steal from companies that would have utilised same for further creative projects. It stifles employment and gives the middle finger to toil, sweat and creativity, as creatives are not motivated to give in their best when their best efforts go unrewarded repeatedly. In the same vein, piracy scares away investors from pumping funds into the entertainment industry and also robs every nation of taxes and levies that would be used for infrastructures. In 2014, Multichoice Nigeria paid about 22 billion naira in taxes and regulatory fees. It is better imagined how much more in taxes the Nigerian government could earn from Multichoice Nigeria and other companies in the entertainment industry in a climate where contents are better secured from the consuming fangs of pirates, and content providers are able to make more profits from their investments. In Nigeria, the harm done by piracy is recognised by law and penalties are stipulated for copyright infringements. In 2012, the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) announced that 722,000,000 units of seized pirated copyright works worth about N6. 5 billion were destroyed. In 2015, the Commission also burnt over 10million pirated copyright works valued at N1. 4 billion in Kaduna and Kano states. However, the penalties for pirates are more often a smack on the wrist rather than a serious reprimand capable of a deterrent effect. Section 20 of the anti-piracy law, for example, stipulates a fine ranging between N100 a copy to N1000 a copy or two years imprisonment or both. More often than not, many pirates have come off the hook by paying this little fine for unquantifiable damages done to intellectual property right. More troubling is the damaging effects of piracy on the broadcast industry. Because contents rights are geo-located- Sky Sports has the right to broadcast in European countries, BeamSport in Middle East and North African countries and Multichoice in West and Sub-Saharan Africa- what some networks have done is to steal the contents paid for by these content providers in other regions and air it in on their network in another region. In Nigeria especially, there are some networks that think because they have the political will on their side, therefore it is acceptable to steal contents from non-indigenous content providers to broadcast, thereby ignoring the losses they put rightful owners of the content.

Therefore, programmes like the English Premiere League, UEFA champions league, La Liga, Telemundo and CNN that require huge finances to secure broadcast rights to are aired freely by pirates in the broadcast industry. This practice, according to the Director of Enforcement of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, costs the broadcast industry in Nigeria N500million in losses annually. But the losses suffered by the content providers could be more. Since broadcast business in relation to premium contents is subscribers based, piracy takes away rightful customers from content providers like Multichoice Nigeria, impacting negatively on their revenues, and by extension their ability to employ more people and to buy more quality contents for subscribers. Piracy comes with the domino effect on businesses and governments. In the case of Nigeria where the unemployment rate is alarming, piracy only makes it worse. Luckily, the entertainment industry has cushioned some of the effects of the rising unemployment by engaging many youths in various activities that lead up to the production and distribution of creative contents. According to PwC Media and Entertainment Outlook 2017, the Nigerian entertainment industry is estimated to employ more than 1 million people. Multichoice Nigeria which has been a great partner of the Nigerian movie industry also employs thousands of Nigerians as retailers, installers, dealers, sabimen, thereby bridging the yawning gap in the employment situation in the country. However, analysts believe that if piracy is curtailed, Nollywood and content providers like Multichoice can contribute significantly more to the Nigerian economy both in revenues to government and jobs to the teeming unemployed Nigerians. Realising the negative consequences of piracy on the economy, the Nigerian government has taken steps to review its anti-piracy laws. There is a growing effort on the part of the government to impose stiffer penalties for copyright infringements. But it remains to be seen if making stiffer ant-piracy laws is as much the answer to piracy in Nigeria as the enforcement of the laws.

In an interview with a national daily last year, the Director of Enforcement of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, Augustine Amodu revealed instances of how the copyright laws are undermined in the hours of its enforcement in Nigeria. He stated that NCC operatives in charge of enforcing the copyright laws are sometimes rendered impotent by influential pirates with access to the powers that be. Therefore, Nigeria has to back its laws with the blind eyes of enforcement in order to deal with piracy. Also, the commission should think of ways of combating piracy in the online space. Adopting measures like monitoring and blocking illegal placement of contents online may also go a long way to protect the creative industry. But can consumers save the creative industry? There is a great possibility here. Piracy is only as strong as the number of people willing to purchase pirated contents. When consumers make positive legal choices and shun pirated contents, jobs will be secured, their favourite actors and contents will remain on screen and the entertainment industry will whip in more revenues in taxes and levies to the Nigerian government. Shunning pirated contents will ensure Nollywood’s growth into a more viable industry that can match the financial and technical resources of competitors abroad. The industry will be able to invest more on quality film-making since its investments are guaranteed to yield returns. Also, consumers should show good faith in the use of contents, as downloading illegal copyright or digitally sharing protected contents is harmful to the creative industry. Consumers should understand that what is termed as ‘free use’ of intellectual property in the digital age is actually theft.

10 December 2020
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