Protecting our intellectual property

One of the first questions authors often ask publishers is how safe their intellectual property will be in their hands. In Nigeria, this question often comes up even before an author hands over their manuscript for review – long before the manuscript is even accepted for publication.

I think one of the reasons why this is such a concern for authors has to do with our country’s atrocious record on copyright protection. It is depressingly common to see piles of pirated books and CDs being sold on street corners and in marketplaces. Each item is a violation of someone’s intellectual property rights and none of the money being made on these goods is going back to the creator. This is why many creatives like musicians, actors and writers often find themselves extremely popular but financially poor. They aren't the ones earning money on their own creations.

Even the media can be guilty of violating copyrights. Often newspapers, radio and television stations will use material without properly attributing their sources or getting the necessary permissions. This is usually due to lack of awareness, but sometimes it can be a deliberate attempt to avoid paying royalties or permission fees.

According to author Tunde Oyesina there are many factors contributing to the poor copyright climate in the country, including poor enforcement and a lack of public awareness. Many of the pirates don’t think they’re doing anything wrong – most argue that it’s just “business”. In addition, cases of copyright infringement are notoriously difficult to pursue at every level – from identifying and arresting the culprits to seeing cases through the glacial pace of our judiciary.

This reality has forced the creative industry in Nigeria to adopt its own fail-safes. Artists and actors often prefer to be paid large sums up front. Musicians make most of their money through live shows where they can get a cut of entrance fees. Writers would rather gather their savings and self-publish their work, than trust a faceless publisher. Even movie makers are getting creative – engaging some of the largest and most prolific pirates as their informal distributors.

The truth is that Nigeria actually has well-articulated copyright laws on its books. The problem, Oyesina concludes, is our mindset:

To effectively protect creative works generated by the entertainment industry, the government must address the widely held belief that intellectual property protection is a Western concept irrelevant in Africa.

Until then, there’s little we creatives can do little beyond demanding our rights, and acting with integrity to protect the rights and intellectual property of others.


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