New Telegraph

February 23, 2024

Piracy: Condemning intellectual property owners to penury

 

 

Unending tears of writers, publishers

 

The Nigerian society has witnessed the administration of different governments; yet, none has been able to curtail piracy, rendering many owners of intellectual property angry, frustrated and penniless. In this report, JULIANA FRANCIS takes a look at latest victims, probing the challenges of Nigerian Copyrights Commission

 

Mr. Tony Iwena, Managing Director, Tonad Publishers Limited, was a picture of gloom as he slouched in the high-backed office chair. The weather was humid; only the humming of the ceiling fan cut through the graveyard silence that has enveloped the office as the man tried to gather his thoughts, which appeared to have been scattered by stress and the wind of time.

 

Flashes of pains and hopelessness chase across his aging face. His wife, like a bulwark sat beside him, intermittently offering comfort by patting his hands.

 

One of his workers, Mr. Clever Eseka, glanced uneasily at Iwena, worried by his mood. In fact, if it was possible for Iwena to roll on the ground and bawled his eyes out, he would have done so. He has watched helplessly as the publishing company, which he built from scratch, started wobbling and crumbling and almost now in ruins. He has lost most of his staff and millions of naira, if not billions. No thanks to piracy!

 

When his publishing firm started showings signs of problems, Iwena never, in his wildest imagination, thought he could be at the mercy and pranks of pirates. He now knows better. He was further pained because those he trusted were at the centre of his songs of sorrow.

 

According to Iwena, the Managing Director of EPP Books Service Nigeria Limited, Mr. Chigozie Aguguo, Mr. Ikenna (Iwena former sales representative), Jayant Printey, a publishing firm based in India and their cohorts allegedly brought his firm to its knees. Tonad Publishers Limited had to lay off most of its workers, after the copyright infringement that ate deep into the financial muscle of the company.

 

He said: “Chigozie has been pirating and infringing on our copyrights of books published by our companies. It all started in 2012 after Chigozie and I went into an agreement, to jointly produce some books as partners.

 

Later, Chigozie went to India, behind my back, to start printing those books. He would ship them into Nigeria, sell and make money without recourse to Tonad Publishers. He was defrauding me.” Iwena said that he received information that Chigozie had been bringing into Nigeria from India, several shipments of books; as much as 15 to 20 containers.

 

He added: “Tonad Publishers is almost grounded. We had to lay off many of our workers. Right now, we can’t quantify our losses. Before we had 120 workers, today, we have only 20 left and we’re battling to pay salaries. Before everything fell apart, Chigozie and I even had agreement to carry out joint importation.”

 

Recollecting the genesis of his troubles, Iwena said that one of his sale representatives, Ikenna, came to tell him that his uncle, Chigozie, who is rich, could help Tonad to expand the publishing business. Iwena said that Ikenna allegedly told him that with his uncle’s money, Tonad could be bringing in as much as 20 containers of Tonad books. The agreement was that Iwena and Chigozie would share profit 50-50. Explaining how he started Tonad Publishers, Iwena said that he used to buy intellectual property from different authors, while he also writes, but mostly at midnights.

 

These properties are produced as text books. The books are materials, which equip and help students to prepare for the Senior Secondary Schools examinations (SSCE). He recalled: “When we were preparing for 2017 market, the Indians, who are our publishers, were running after us.

 

They came that they wanted to do business with us. We didn’t know that they had already printed for Chigozie. We gave them a new cover for our books, but the Indians did not use the cover because they had printed with the old cover for Chigozie. Before our books arrived in Nigeria, Chigozie’s books had flooded the market.

 

“Because the Indians printed for us on credit, they printed for us at a very high cost so we had no choice than to sell at a margin that would bring profit to us. When we got to the market, we could not sell because Chigozie was selling with over N200 margin cheaper than ours. We were forced to reduce our price to match up with his price, but he further reduced the price. He crashed the price.”

 

However, Eseka alleged that Tonad Publishers’ losses, accrued from the piracy infringement, runs into millions of naira because Chigozie had been bringing into Nigeria from India as much as 20 containers of Tonad Publishers’ text books, for close to two years. He added: “This is a classic case of ‘Monkey dey work, Baboon dey chop.’ Chigozie had earlier claimed that Tonad Publishers didn’t pay him as agreed in the contract.

 

After we heard that, we called him several times, for a round table discussion, so that we could reconcile accounts, but he refused to show up.” The lawyer of Tonad Publishers Limited, Blessing Ahmed of Blue Diamond Law Firm, explained that the publishing firm was fast sliding into bankruptcy when Iwena decided to carry out a thorough investigation.

 

She said: “We then found out that Chigozie had been pirating our client’s books. This has been going on for some years.” Chigozie, however, has retorted that it was actually Tonad Publishers that reneged on their contract, causing his major losses.

 

He explained that his company imported some containers of educational materials in 2015 and they were selling them as agreed, but then Tonad Publishers went behind him and imported without his knowledge. Chigozie said that Iwena and Tonad Publishers owed him over N40 million accrued from their business dealings.

 

He said: “Tonad’s owner and his wife came to me in 2012. The person that brought them to me was my customer from Aba called Iketex. They pleaded with me that their company  had collapsed and I should help them. Before then, they had been printing their books locally and their company was already bankrupt. We subsequently entered into a partnership agreement, including the terms of profit sharing.

 

When we printed the first batch of books and brought them to Nigeria, Iwena and I took the containers to their warehouse. Based on our agreement, Iwena issued a postdated cheque to cover the worth of the goods and my 40 per cent profit.

 

At the due date, the cheque bounced and I also found out that they had reprinted the books without my knowledge. If this is a case of piracy, they can take the case to the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC). I did not print any book behind the company; I do not owe them any money.” Incidentally, Ahmed disclosed that when the case started, her law firm had written to NCC, but mum was the word.

 

This year again, the firm had written another and still, the commission, for reasons yet unknown, has allegedly refused to act. Iwena, who alleged that his life was even threatened by Chigozie, through his lawyer, petitioned the Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG), Mr. Adamu Ibrahim, to intervene before the man made good his threat.

 

He claimed to have been threatened after he repeatedly asked Chigozie to hands off his business. Iwena said Chigozie and Jayant Printey defrauded him by producing and selling his books without his consent or authorisation. In the petition, Ahmed urged the AIG to investigate the matter urgently, and bring it to a final conclusion, to prove that nobody was above the law. Ahmed added:

 

“Sometime in 2012, our client entered into an agreement with EPP Books Service Nigeria Limited for financial help. In the same vein, our client also entered into an agreement with Jayant Printery, a company based in India, to print some of her books and import same into Nigeria. However, it was unknown to our clients that while the agreement was still subsisting, EPP Books and Jayant Printery were defrauding our client by producing and selling her books without her consent or authorisation.

 

This illicit act continued over the years and has caused grave harm to our client.” Chigozie was arrested on October 10, 2018, by policemen from Zone 2 Police Headquarters and was taken to the office of the AIG for further questions. He was released on bail on October 11, 2018. Tonad, unsatisfied with the handling of the case by policemen at Zone 2, petitioned the then Inspector-General of Police (IG), Ibrahim Idris (rtd). Ahmed said upon investigation, it was discovered that EPP Books had accomplices.

 

These accomplices, one of which is Ikenna, a former sales representative of Tonad Publishers, having got knowledge of the business started producing and distributing Tonad Books to her unsuspecting customers. Ikenna is now a director in one of the companies alleged to be pirating Tonad Publishers’ books.

 

“It was further discovered that one of our client’s customers, which is the Nigerian Army Education Corps, situate in Yaba, Lagos State, no longer patronises our client, but EPP Books. Unknown to them that Chigozie was selling Tonad Books without authorisation.

 

“After petitioning their office, the Nigerian Army later knew they were dealing with the wrong persons, but failed to return the books or take any legal step in curbing this menace as promised by them to our client. Chigozie now uses other company names as disguise to produce, import and sell Tonad Books across Nigeria and has vehemently refused to return the original incorporation certificate of our client in his possession,” Ahmed said.

 

In a letter dated September 2017, Tonad Publishers accused Jayant Printery LLP of breaching contract by printing Tonad books for a pirate. Responding on November 6, 2017, Jayant Printery stated in part: “You alleged that our company had breached its contract with your company by printing the new books for a pirate, whilst our contract with your company was subsisting. We are indeed surprised at the allegation contained in your letter and this is because our company has not breached its contract with your company in any manner.

 

As a company, we believe in honouring our contractual obligations to our numerous clients and we will therefore not go ahead to print books for a pirate or third party, when we have an existing contract to print the same books exclusively for a party.

 

We hope that we have been able to satisfactorily respond to your queries and use this opportunity to assure you of our company’s commitment in ensuring that we continue to honour all our contractual obligations to your company.” Iwena is not the only Nigerian caught in this web of deceit and theft of intellectual materials.

 

Indeed, Nigerian writers and publishers are at the mercy of pirates. It appears that no matter the steps taken to eradicate pirates and piracy, it has become like a pest, which pesticide cannot destroy.

 

The menace continues to spread it tentacles like octopus, with Nigerian pirates now using foreign printers to perfect their crimes, just to elude arrest. Nobody was probably more shocked than the former President of Nigeria, General Olusegun Obasanjo, when he discovered that the pirate sharks had gathered to feast on his book, ‘My Watch.’ Obasanjo’s publishers, Farafina Books, did not find it funny at all.

 

Mr. Eghosa Imasuen, the chief operating officer (COO) of Farafina Books, said the pirates obtained a copy of the book from London and took it to China where they made copies illegally and brought    them back to Nigeria. He noted that the pirated books were sold on the streets at prices even more expensive than the original. It was further discovered that the three books in the series were being sold by the pirates with some as low as N10,000 and some for as high as N65,000 for paperback copies.

 

Hawkers were also seen in traffic selling the book for as low as N5,000. It must have been a shattering experience for the former president. He must have wished he had taken a stiffer step against pirates and piracy during his administration.

 

Former President Goodluck Jonathan also received his own shock. Moments after his book, My Transition Hours, was launched, it transited into the waiting hands of pirates. The original hard copy of the book was advertised by Jonathan on his Twitter handle with two different cover prices: N10,500 (hardback) and N5,000 (paperback).

 

Although Jonathan and his publishers through different avenues, urged members of the public to ignore the pirated version, it was like trying to sell ice to the Eskimos. Jonathan’s media aide, Ikechukwu Eze, said the book was pirated by mischiefmakers. He said the Jonathan camp would issue a statement to alert members of the public to the new development.

 

Another victim is Segun Adeniyi; a Nigerian journalist, current chairman of the Editorial Board of ThisDay Newspapers and a former presidential spokesman for the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. His book, Against The Run Of Play, was pirated. He said: “I feel pained losing revenue from online sales of #Against- TheRunOfPlay.” | Okechukwu Ofili, a blogger, an author of four books including “How Intelligence Kills,” is the founder of Okada Books. Reacting to the pirating of Toke Makinwa’s book, ‘On Becoming,’ Ofili said he was shocked.

 

The book was pirated less than 24 hours after it was launched. Makinwa is a radio personality, television host, vlogger and author. She also hosts ‘The Late Morning Drive’ on Rhythm 93.7 FM and her   YouTube vlog series.

 

Ofili, who argued that availability of different sources of buying books was one way of checking piracy, said that as a company: “We had hoped that this book would prove that writing was still a profitable venture in Nigeria.” Ofili, while hoping for writers to begin to enjoy profit of their intellectualism, noted that piracy was not a Nigerian thing.

 

He said: “Rather, piracy is a human thing. If you create a popular product that everybody wants to get, but it is very hard to get it legally, people, by their human nature, will create and search for the illegal alternative.

 

This is fact… this is the reality of things. In America, piracy is countered not with lawsuits or product restriction but rather by creating an abundance of simple and legal gateways to get products, that’s how they fight piracy primarily.

 

Back to Toke’s book, as an author myself, one of the most crushing things is to see your hard work distributed for free. Even though there are a few options to get books legally in Nigeria, I still urge people to strive to find the legal options. Not just for the author but so that our nation can grow to recognise and appreciate the value her artists have.”

 

Tragically, most books, especially school materials in major stores are pirated books. Writers continue to slave, while loafers will be laughing all the way to the bank. Intellectual property is protected by the Copyright (Amendment) Decree No 42 of 1999 which empowers the NCC to, with the consent of the minister, “prescribe any design, label, mark, impression or any other anti-piracy device for use on, in or in connection with any work in which copyright subsists.

 

It says: “(2) Any person who – (a) sells, rents, hires or (b) offers for sale, rent or hire, any work in contravention of the prescription made pursuant to subsection (1) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both such fine and imprisonment.

 

“(3) Any person who without the permission of the Commission – (a) imports into Nigeria; or (b) has in his possession, any anti-piracy device prescribed under this section or any machine, instrument or other contrivance intended for use in the production of the anti-piracy device, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N500,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years, or to both such fine and imprisonment.

 

“(4) A person who without the permission of the Commission – (a) is in possession of; or (b) reproduces; or (c) counterfeits, any anti-piracy device prescribed under this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N50,000 or imprisonment to a term not exceeding 5 years, or to both such fine and imprisonment.

 

“(5) The Commission shall have power, with the consent of the Minister, to make regulations specifying the conditions necessary to give effect to the purpose of this section.”

 

But it is a surprise to many intellectual property owners that despite the law, the NCC has been unable to effectively protect them and the hard work from pirates. Many writers have argued that the Nigerian Copyright Commission as a body is weak and cannot bark much, let alone to bite.

 

And the police and judiciary are not helping in the fight against piracy. While police see the issue as not too important or criminal, courts have been known to award ridiculous fines to offenders.

 

It is not only books that are being pirated in Nigeria; movies and music CDs are continually being stolen and pirated by people, who operate like mafias. Pirates have impoverished actors, actresses, musicians and authors. Comedian and a producer, Ayo Makun alias AY, received his baptism of fire in 2015 after his much hyped movie, ‘30 Days in Atlanta’ was pirated.

 

While the pirates were having a field day, AY’s heart was bleeding as he remembered how he had toiled day and night to make the movie a success. He had also spent a lot of money in making the movie, hopeful of a bountiful harvest.

 

The sweet taste of the success, which he experienced after the release of the movie, turned to ashes in his taste bud. Fuming, AY wrote an open letter to the IG, on the pirating of his movie. AY urged the police boss to use the machinery at his disposal to identify and arrest those involved in the nefarious act.

 

The broken-hearted comedian said: “I have always heard of the risk faced by honest producers and loss of revenue due to the activities of the incessant piracy cabals operating freely, without fear of the law in Nigeria.

 

And within the past few weeks, this has been my experience as I heard of the leak of my movie to various nefarious elements. No more should a miscreant be celebrated or allowed to rape intellectual properties of honest hardworking citizens with impunity, while the owners of the property looks on helplessly.

 

No more should movie producers and other intellectual property owners’ scramble to make the little they can, before the ‘Alaba boys’ get their hands on the content. Alaba is part of Nigeria and as such the activities therein ought to be governed by the laws of Nigeria.” The hydra-headed pirates are more than the Alaba boys as theorised by AY.

 

The mafia has grown octopus arms, with Chinese and Indians taking the centre stage, while the Alaba boys now answer, ‘Yes sir to them.’ ‘The Wedding Party,’ is a romantic comedy drama film that stole the hearts of many Nigerians, also had a run-in with Nigerian pirates.

 

It was learnt that the producers of ‘The Wedding Party,’ were hit with major financial setback to the tune of N200 million. Pirated copies sold for between N500 and N200 in different parts of Nigeria.

 

There are hundreds of movies, books and music CDs which had been pirated and the pirates continue to wax stronger, with many Indians and Chinese importing pirating machines into the country. Most of these machines are moved to Alaba International Market. It is no longer a hidden secret. Every trader in the market knows the building, with an innocuous front, where these items are being done. These machines during importation passed through inspection of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) officials at the Wharf.

 

A source at Alaba International Market said: “When these CDs are about to be loaded, you will see Army men assisting to load them into trucks. These soldiers are also those that used to escort the CDs to the distributors.” In fact, there is no security agency and agent in Lagos State, who do not know that Alaba International Market is a network for pirates and piracy.

 

Mr. Gbadega Adedapo is president of the Nigerian Publishers Association and an executive committee member of the International Publishers Association. He said: “Piracy is one of Africa’s biggest problems in publishing.” Odia Ofeimun, a Nigerian poet, polemicist, and author of many volumes of poetry, books of political essays and cultural politics, also spoke on piracy,. He said: “There is no way to tackle piracy.

 

When you talk about piracy, you’re talking about the corruptibility of the Nigerian system and the irresponsibility of the security system. It’s not just about literature. There’s no profession in Nigeria that is totally protected by the Nigerian law.

 

“Although there are laws, the system has no means of protecting itself. A filmmaker complained that he couldn’t produce any new film because the last ones were pirated. As for authors, one only needs to be accepted by schools or something of a best seller, the very next day his or her work will be pirated. “These pirates are well known to the police; which is what is bothersome about it. If the police wish to catch the pirates, they know where to find them.

 

The Nigerian system does not allow people to do the work they are supposed to do properly. On the day that Amos Tutuola died, we just walked out of the burial area and decided to buy soft drinks. Right under our noses, a book was being pirated. The children will pick the pieces and hand over to the big guy, who pins them and then put a cover.

 

“If you know who is pirating your book, the proper thing would be to inform the police. But if you inform the police in Nigeria, you’re wasting your time. The Nigerian Copyright Commission, no matter how well packaged, is operating in a system where things are not well put. We’re in a very bad situation.

 

“Filmmakers are in the same situation. Some musicians have given up; what they do now is to go to the pirates to negotiate. Even that sort of negotiation means that the owner of the property gets so much less. We are in a difficult situation and it begins with a political class that has no interest in professionalism.”

 

On January 14, our reporter contacted the NCC Director, Public Affairs, Mr. Vincent Oyefeso, to know why piracy appears to be on the increase and what efforts the commission was making to arrest the saddening situation. Oyefeso asked the reporter to send an email, detailing questions. The reporter did and received a reply thus: “Received with thanks.

 

Our response will be sent soon, please. Thank you.” When our reporter called Oyefeso to know how soon was ‘soon,’ he said the commission needed to collate information from different offices to give the reporter and that it required time. But as at press time, the commission was yet to get back to our reporter.

 

 

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