The Copyright Piracy fight is Online and not on the Streets

Chuba Agbu

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The Nigerian Copyright Commission clamp down on street hawkers indicates misplacement of priorities in a battle that has long since migrated from the physical realm to the digital realm. To curtail copyright infringement of works, the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) has taken the fight to the streets.

The Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), in partnership with the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPD), took to the streets to stamp hawking of copyright-protection works. Speaking during a visit to AEPB headquarters in Abuja, John O. Assein, the Director-General, NCC, expressed displeasure at vendors who sold pirated books. He called for a proactive partnership of NCC and AEBP to rid the streets of widespread peddling of pirated works such as CDs, CDs and DVDs. However, to many, this looks more frivolous than practical.

When assessing this strategy, it is important to look at the larger picture and what it actually means for the Nigerian creative industry. Targeting vendors on the street who are trying to survive in a failing economy is akin to plucking the hairs of a lion in a bid to kill it.

In 90’s America, this type of piracy is referred to as selling bootleg goods. Usually, a shady man would camp outside predominantly more impoverished areas and sell pirated material out of his car trunk. Today, one would be hard-pressed to find any of these individuals around in the states anymore. Why? Well, that is because the battle is now occurring online.

According to a new study from the US Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Centre, global digital piracy costs the US film and TV industry at least an estimated $29.2 billion and as much as $71 billion annually. Internet piracy is far more damaging and can be executed on a much larger scale than any street hawking collective could hope to achieve. The memo has long been out; the copyright infringement fight has evolved, and the focus should be averted to the web-based mediums that perpetrate this infringement.

Music enthusiasts use apps like Apple Music and Deezer, which in Nigeria can go for as little as 1000 Naira a month. A Netflix subscription goes for around 4000. These streaming platforms give users access to seemingly unlimited access to music and movies. The price of a single pirated music CD goes for about N200 and a movie DVD for around N500. For the paying customer, it makes little sense to buy physical mediums instead of subscribing to the platforms mentioned above. This dawn of streaming platforms has phased out physical CD’s, and this is no different for pirated versions of these physical copies.

So, why deliberately attack an inconsequential ailment that history shows technology will eventually phase out? Street hawkers cater to a demographic of people who would mostly not buy the original content in the first place; the big picture effect is that targeting street hawking likely has a minuscule impact on the creative industry’s revenue inflow. The chances are that the local bus driver will not go out of his way to purchase an original Davido CD, nor does he know what a Netflix account is, let alone sign up for a monthly subscription.

The solution lies in regulation and enforcement.

Legal strategies and anti-piracy investigations include the prosecution of individuals and companies that upload and download pirated content. The civil penalty for copyright violations in the United States is $150,000 per infringement, meaning a civil suit can cost a violator millions of dollars. This steep fine is not merely to punish the violators but also meant to serve as a strong deterrent to others.

The Nigerian Copyright Act is grossly outdated, and although provisions can be loosely interpreted to infer violation, it does not explicitly address the substantive aspect of digital piracy. More so, the stipulated fines in 2020 seem more like a slap on the wrist, particularly, when adjusted for inflation.

The NCC should gear its efforts and strategy around anti-piracy investigations which primarily leverage technology, to enable content owners to identify where and how content is being leaked to provide them with a precise estimation of the scale and potential risks of such an infringement. Upon determining the scale of the infringing activity, the owner can then take steps to develop strategies and defer to legal recourse.

The anti-piracy investigation’s effectiveness can be observed when the Premier League carried out one of the world’s most extensive raids. During this investigation, 14 locations were raided, five arrests were made, and authorities were able to shut down illegal streaming businesses, which allowed access to over 800 television channels. Their efforts employed the use of IP tracking systems amongst other types of software.

The purpose of this article is not to advocate for street hawking piracy but rather to emphasize the need to prioritise the more pressing issue on the battle against copyright piracy in 2021.


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