Creative Content Industry: Piracy’s clear and present danger

Pirated copies of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun were hawked on the streets of Lagos
Pirated copies of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun were hawked on the streets of Lagos

By ‘Folake Oladipupo

Pirated copies of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun were hawked on the streets of Lagos
Pirated copies of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun were hawked on the streets of Lagos

As Africa and the whole world await the much expected leap of the African creative industry to the next level, the thrill may be gone even before its starts being felt.

On 1 October, the first dose of the biggest ever injection of impetus into the African creative industry via the MultiChoice Talent Factory Academy (MTFA) project, which aims to provide students a one-year fully funded education in all aspects of film and television.

The objective of the MTFAs, located in Nigeria, Zambia and Kenya, is to develop the next generation of African film and television professionals by equipping them with technical skills required to make the African film industry cross over to the global mainstream.

While the 60 students, 20 in each regional MTFA, are thrilled by the possibility of learning from accomplished industry greats and the hope of producing huge quantity of work at the highest quality, their output and those of other content creators is threatened by pervasive piracy, a global malaise rampant in Africa where the unregulated industry is at the mercy of limp legislation, enforcement and suffocating corruption.

The engine of piracy is up and running. Its destructive effects on the creative industry are far-reaching. For one, it greatly reduces resources available to content creators to keep on creating by making paupers of them.

The local content industry requires a lot of money to make it grow. But with piracy, such money is unavailable. Most pirated movies are victims of their own success. Pirates target the fastest-selling DVDs, often to China, to be mass-produced and bring them back to Africa to sell.

Three weeks after its release in July 2014, Half of a Yellow Sun, a film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie’s novel, was found being hawked on Lagos streets.

A year later, famous actor/producer, Kunle Afolayan threatened to leave Nigeria after discovering that the VCD of his popular movie, October 1, had been pirated and was already on sale on the street at N500 per copy when he had yet to recoup a fraction of the $2million invested in its production.

Emmanuel Isikaku, a leading figure in Nigeria’s Film and Video Producers and Marketers Association, knows more than little about the debilitating effect of piracy. His experience with Plane Crash, his 2007 flick, still haunts. “I couldn’t make anything from it. Because of piracy I didn’t even break even. A lot of people watched the film, but unfortunately they watched pirated copies,” he said.

 He argued that pirates have stopped producers from working hard and investors from providing the finance because they do not get what they are due.

READ: Plateau: Dambazau orders police, NSCDC to end Jos crisis

Piracy is abetted, perhaps unwittingly, by consumers, who are happy to pay N100 for a pirated movie VCD instead of N400 for the original. In many cases, pirated versions holds up to seven movie titles.

Most movie retailers also get their stock from pirates, leaving them with fantastic profit margins on meager investments. This robs investors in creative content of the opportunity to recoup their investments and does the same to the government in terms of taxes and levies.

Another effect of piracy is the reduction of the capacity of the local content industry to create jobs as much as it should. Over a million people, it is estimated, are currently employed in Nollywood.

 Nollywood films have a large following in Africa and immigrant enclaves around the world. On account of its popularity, it is well placed to create more employment opportunities. But stifled by piracy, its chances of doing are dim. Piracy equally affects the remuneration of actors, who get financial rewards grossly at variance with what their talents and fame merit.

The World Bank estimates that for every legitimate copy sold, nine others are pirated.

 “In terms of exports, these movies are purchased and watched across the world — in other African countries, Europe, USA and the Caribbean, and almost all the exports are pirated copies,” said a World Bank official. She added that because there are currently few legal channels for exporting movies, very meager or no returns go to the filmmakers and practically no revenue goes to the government.

According to Isikaku, piracy was eroding his profits back in 2005. He estimated that he lost about N10million because of illegally copied DVDs. The problem, he said, became alarming in 2007 when pirates started to use video compression technology, which allows between five and 20 films (both local and foreign) to be squeezed onto one disk and then sold at N100, leaving producers unable compete by charging N400.

  Industry figures explain that pirates lay their hands on movies through a number of ways. These include cinema screenings, which require the producer to send the movie hard drive to cinema houses, where control, usually left to low-level staff on meager wages, is weak. A poorly remunerated staff is easily targeted by pirates, who could seduce him with about N1million to make copies of original versions.

Another source of is the post-production stage, which allows unscrupulous editors and other post-production crew members access to original copies of movies. Yet another is DVD release which, with the improvements in piracy technology, has made it considerably easier and quicker for content to be ripped off the original and deliver almost the same audio-visual grade.

Pirates also get movies via online portals, which indicate that the content is encoded, but are easily downloadable by mid-level Information Technology personnel. Piracy of television content, for example, has seen DStv signal illegally relayed and movies downloaded from DStv Box office. A few years ago, one Ubong Obot was dragged to court by the Nigerian Copyright Commission and slapped with charges related illegal relaying of DStv signal to about 500 homes in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. A raid on his house yielded items such as illegal decoders, transmission boosters, rolls of installation wires and other accessories valued at N20 million.

With cinema-going culture yet to fully take root and film consumers still dependent on VCDs and DVDs, piracy continues to boom. In addition to these, the country’s porous land and sea borders as well as airport provide no impediment to pirated DVDs re-entry into the country from China. Weak enforcement of anti-piracy laws, slap-on-the wrist penalties for pirates and corruption provide additional impetus to endemic piracy and create a dangerous economic climate for even the most skilled filmmakers, who are usually self-funded.

Oladipupo, writes from Abeokuta