Nigeria is one of the leading countries in the world where copyright protection is non-existent. Those who violate the intellectual right of others in Nigeria are so confident that they openly display or hawk their products on the streets with an amazing degree of impunity. In Lagos, for instance, pirated books, movies and musical videos are littered in every corner of the city, made available in a quality that embarrasses the original creator of the work and at a price that is aimed at sentencing the creator of the work to the permanent arms of starvation and penury.
Our collective tragedy is that the Nigerian system has totally failed to work for its people, not just in the aspect of policy-making but also in the aspect of protecting the intellectual endeavour of its creative people, thereby leaving them at the mercy of rodents. I have, in fact, argued elsewhere with vigour that it is the entire Nigerian system that has failed, and that irrespective of any field of endeavour one may decide to choose, the failed system we live in is by default programmed to hunt us.
The Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), supposedly set up to protect intellectual properties in the country and to actively combat violators, is a major joke. Perhaps it would have been much better if this Commission never existed. The Commission is only interested in generating funds from the registration of intellectual properties. Whatever violation takes place after any work has been registered is the sole responsibility of the organisation or individual who registered the violated work. This accounts for why the proliferation of pirated books and other creative works in Nigeria has remained alarmingly consistent.
The result is that copyright violation in Nigeria is pervasive and may remain so for a long time. For instance, on the 19th day of January, 2018 a Federal High Court in Lagos delivered judgement in a suit between MultiChoice and the Copyright Society of Nigeria. The former had dragged the latter to court seeking a perpetual injunction restraining the latter from asking or demanding them to obtain copyright licence for the broadcast and communication to public of musical works on the radio and television channels operated and distributed by MultiChoice. The irony of this suit is that MultiChoice who reportedly infringed on the intellectual property of another were the first to rush to court demanding that the court grants them an order of perpetual injunction restraining Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria from further demanding payment for their songs which MultiChoice used without obtaining permission. I must say that the level of intrepidity exhibited by MultiChoice is amazing and only possible in a country like Nigeria where the atmosphere for copyright violators appears to be extremely conducive.
Like several creative thinkers across Nigeria whose work is displayed in Alaba, hawked on the streets of Lagos, Port Harcourt, Aba, etc. I am equally a victim of gross copyright violation and my eyes drip with blood, not with tears. I wrote previously that an Ogun State-based publishing house, Melrose Books and Publishing Limited, surreptitiously published my literary work (Heroes of the Night) and confidently sold the rights of the book to Macmillan Publishers, Universal Basic Education Commission and the Federal Government of Nigeria. With the help of the Federal Government and Universal Basic Education, Heroes of the Night got circulated to all secondary schools across Nigeria and Melrose got hugely paid but kept the proceeds to themselves. They are probably buying cars for themselves, buying houses, travelling across the world at liberty, sending their children to the best schools in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world whilst the creator of the work they so hugely benefit from lives a penurious life! Can no one see the brazenness of this theft and the severe moral turpitude that accompanies it? But that is not all. Upon filing a lawsuit against Melrose Publishers, the company swiftly reacted by calling me a “gold digger”! Amazing! Really, really amazing indeed! Like Professor Ola Rotimi would say: “because the farmer owner is slow in catching the thief, the thief now calls the farm owner thief.”
Faced with what became a naked reality, Melrose directors eventually decided to offer me N5, 000,000 to abandon the suit, which I immediately dismissed without hesitation. Reacting to my rejection in a conversation vide WhatsApp, their representative sent me a message which, based on the context of our conversation, I considered a threat and I did not hesitate to make that clear to him. I have since sent screenshots of the conversation to those who should be in the know in the event that ANYTHING HAPPENS during the pendency of this suit or after it.
Theft of intellectual property is a major crime anywhere in the world, and those who engage in it are hardened criminals. It is, in fact, the same as barging into someone’s house in the dead of night, clutching a gun and making all sorts of psychotic demands.
One of the reasons intellectual robbers have so much courage in Nigeria is that they are not without the knowledge that our country’s legal system is overly sluggish and are confident therefore that no matter the depth of their crime, the same legal system which ought to penalise them in a timely fashion, will inadvertently aid them. So, they generously spend the money made from the stolen intellectual property to fight the very person who created it. Odious!
For Melrose Publishers, since their clandestine publication of my play (Heroes of the Night) came to light, all that has preoccupied their thoughts has been how they can get away with this monstrous crime. But what they do not know is that when a farmer climbs to steal palm fruit, he cannot prevent the bunch from making a sound upon landing on the ground. This one did not just land, it made a loud cry on the face of the earth and now the palm fruit owner and his people have gathered at the scene.
I am therefore inviting concerned Nigerians and fellow writers to pay very close attention to this matter as shenanigans of all sorts are getting ready to unfold. Do not forget, when an egg-stealing cobra is surrounded with sticks, he does not apologise for his crime; he relies on his venom to plot an escape.
Elias Ozikpu is an activist and a professional playwright, novelist, essayist and polemicist.