Pirates of the Niger-Area (Nigeria)

There is this sweet habit of mine. Every morning, I check out recent updates on my Blackberry. It’s just always a fun-way to start the day, after praying of course. On this day, I noticed that my good friend, a film producer with a prominent production house in Nigeria, had a newly released film poster as the DP (display pic). I knew this company was exclusively into TV soaps, so I was pleasantly surprised at this development and decided to pry further. My exchange with this producer who chooses to remain annonymous went thus:

Tomexy: Wow, the team now does proper movies *surprise smiley*

Producer: Yeah, lots of 9ja (Nigerian) movies now show at the cinema here

Tomexy: I hope the quality is not the regular thing we watch on Youtube here?

Producer: As regards quality, honestly we are still struggling with that one o! It’s not a cheap endeavour, plus these pirates are just scattering things for us. Imagine spending 15M on a movie & then you plan to show it in the cinemas for an average price of 1k per head. But before you release it, the film is already available on the streets in a collection with like 5 other 9ja movies for 200 Naira. So yeah, sometimes in the bid to minimise cost and reduce our risk, quality sometimes suffers 😦

This little exchange inspired me to do a quick post on film piracy.

An array of pirated disks on sale

Piracy is one robust cankerworm that has eaten deep into Nigeria’s film industry. In lay-man English, my expression would translate to E DON TEY NO BE TODAY!

The length of time this vice has survived makes it difficult for one to even consider there ever being a solution. In a late 2010 article by the Economist on Nollywood, there is a vivid account of how the pirates of the Niger-area operate:

“As soon as a film is released, copyright thieves rip it off. It takes the pirates just two weeks to copy a new film and distribute it across Africa. The merchants must take their money during that fortnight, known as the “mating season”, before their discs become commodities. As soon as the mating season is over they start thinking about the next film.” – The Economist, December 2010

If this is how our film producers rush to make it across the ‘mating’ season, how can there be room for quality and top-notch films to compete in international festivals?

The impact piracy has on the nation goes beyond the loss of profits for film producers.

Here is a short list of the impact of piracy:

1. It kills the industry because producers hardly make enough profit to plough back into making another film.

2.It kills cinema culture.

In fact, reviving the cinema culture in Nigeria has been a Herculean task. The popular Pen Cinema still is stands in ruins at Agege (last I checked). The dearth and ultimate death of cinema culture in a society equals to the loss of a crucial aspect of social life, no matter how trivial it may seem.

3. It robs us of international recognition because our producers are unable to meet the standard even though they ‘know their onions, pepper, tomatoes and other condiments’. We are quick to complain about cultural imperialism from the West, but if we can’t put together a cultural product fit for export, we can only whine till infinity.

4. There are loads of other examples on how piracy impacts Nigeria. Feel free to drop them as a comment on this post (as well as prescribed solutions).

Hollywood faces the same pain with online film providers, and losses cool cash every year. However, it is still able to make up for the loss because of its size among other reasons.

In the West, piracy does not exactly thrive mainly because the cinema culture is very much alive and is too much in demand for a pirate to see the light of day. Also, there are strict copyright laws that are actually enforced by the government. It is one thing to have these laws, and another to enforce them without compromise.

Therefore, after about a 100 scapegoats, even a stubborn goat would hesitantly stagger towards the abattoir, if it goes at all (self composed African proverb, lol).

The War is on!!!

Pirated copies of Uncle TK's Arugba

In Bic Lue’s interview with Tunde Kelani (Bic Lue is a US Fullbright Fellow who is undertaking a study on the social impact on the Nigerian video film industry), I garnered that Uncle TK has come up with a new distribution model for his films just to combat this piracy issue.

In this interview, Bic Lue says:

Piracy is a common method of infringement … but Kelani is ahead of many of his peers in finding a solution to this problem. …Kelani instead plans to solicit government and private sector sponsorship to fund a series of free mobile cinema screenings throughout Lagos State.

Therefore, providing mobile cinema viewing of your films without releasing a disc copy is one way of narrowing down the activities of pirates.

The rest of Nollywood has not been sleeping either. There are plans underway to fizzle out the pirates. In another post from Bic Lue’s blog, she narrates just how Nollywood is going to re-work the distribution chain to keep the pirates right out of the mix – in the dark where they belong:

The first is the one already mentioned, re-vitalising the cinemas. This model is premised on the thinking that if Nigerians knew where to get the original version of the film, they would patronize that source rather than a pirated copy. Hence, pirates are only feeding off the marketing and distribution gap.

Second is a grassroot approach. This model is mostly adopted by top cinematographer, Tunde Kelani, who recognizes that most Nigerians (especially the batch that mostly engages with films) cannot afford a thousand naira cinema ticket. He is thus looking to put together little viewing centres and charge an average N150 per head. Now  my maths may not be top-notch, but in British currency, that is less than 50p to see a film.

Last on the solution list is a high tech distribution solution. Nigerian films are readily available on the internet, and nothing can be done to change that. So instead of fighting this development, producers are looking to tap into its potentials and attempt to make some money back from the platform.

I am a staunch follower of @Nollywoodlove and he is proud to claim that his films are legally uploaded as he has acquired the necessary rights to air them. His versions of Nollywood films on Youtube span the entire 1 hour or more without unnecessary breaks, punctuated with adverts meant for viewers in diaspora.

Some argue that piracy has helped the dominance of Nigerian films across the continent. I can hardly argue with them, and on behalf of the producers I say a big thank you – you have done well. If we are going to become that civilised society we so much crave , little things like this act of piracy must be curbed to a commendable degree – at least man must chop abi?

Follow @Bic Lue http://findingnollywood.com/ For more details on NOllywood and the Piracy war.

If you have any solutions to offer, I look forward to reading from you as well.


Photo credits: Essence.com and google images.


7 thoughts on “Pirates of the Niger-Area (Nigeria)

  1. Nelson says:

    Strengthen existing piracy laws, make them very severe with lengthy jail terms and high fines for both convicted pirates and buyers of pirated materials. The next thing is to enforce these laws. When people see that someone was executed for piracy (Ok that was joke but you get the message?) piracy would be reduced to the barest minimum as they would be left with no doubts that the authorities mean business.

    • Tomexy says:

      Nelson that is a good idea. However, we must still appreciate the limits of the law – most times it is not enough to curb the pirates. Even in the West, there is a massive campaign against sharing creative property (copyrighted) online. Yet if they arrest one, a thousand others spring up. The law needs the support of my initiatives.

      and thank you so much for your comment. I look forward to them.

  2. olatubosub says:

    Very brilliant one here. We all know the fun that exist in the cinema,an average Nigerian can not afford it;that’s one of the conditions that favours the pirates! Let the 9ja movies be made cheap in cinemas. Let proper security measures be made by producers to prevent release of their movies before its premiered and let em flood the market so that they a step or two ahead of the pirates.

  3. olatubosun says:

    Very brilliant one here the issue was well viewed.
    We all know the fun that exist in the cinema,an average Nigerian can not afford it;that’s one of the conditions that favours the pirates! Let the 9ja movies be made cheap in cinemas. Let proper security measures be made by producers to prevent release of their movies before its premiered and let em flood the market so that they a step or two ahead of the pirates.

  4. Tomexy says:

    Thank you for your comment Olatubosun. I agree with you that the producers should be a lot more careful with their products and prevent leaks.

    The truth is that mistakes do happen. What if your camera man leaked it to the pirates of a mouth-watering fee? My producer-friend is one of the most careful persons I know who doesn’t play on the job, yet a victim.

    I am with you on this one – make viewing cost a lot cheaper.
    Thanks Ola.

  5. A number of issues here:
    If the hide-out of pirates is as evident as it is in Nigeria, why hasn’t any long-lasting measure(s) been taken against the culprits?
    2. How can you tell an original from a fake -talking about Nigerian movies. Where can you get a certified original. Information like this should be made available to the public. Even if you wanted to get an original one has no idea where to go – definitely not from the genre of shops on the island that are overly priced so you are stuck with purchasing in traffic or roadsides hence enriching the pockets of the pirates.

  6. Tomexy says:

    You have raised strong points yourself – I believe these are issues stakeholders in the industry need to take serious account of. Thank you for your contribution Notmadblackwoman

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