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Why sale of illegal motivational books, best selling authors is rising in Nigeria

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• Nigerians should join hands to win piracy war insists copyright commission

The desperate movement of legs and vehicles on the road to Lawanson told Helen Irozuru something was wrong. It was either officials of Vehicles Inspectorate Unit or Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) were operating. Whenever officials from any of these agencies came out, everybody ran helter skelter. Helen was scared of traffic jam and the busstop being spilled over by commuters. However, the sudden realisation that it was not any of two made her to heave a sigh of relief.

As she walked towards Ojuelegba busstop, the lady was attracted to the piles of books that lined the sidewalk. It’s a common sight in this part of Lagos to see books on the road for passersby to select from. Helen, like other pleasure readers, walked towards the stand and began to glance at the books.

Few seconds after, she drew a puzzled look. She flung her arms wide in total surprise. She was frightened. She shouted on top of her voice over her stolen intellectual property. Her voice was clearly over the clouds. This was her work — The product of many lonely months.

For months, she fought the pirates head-on but at the end of the day, she found out it was a lost battle.

The late Abubakar Gimba was luckier when his book, Witnesses to Tears, was selected by ‘JAMB’ for secondary schools. Pirates were set to feast on the book but the response from his publishers saved the situation.

“When we were notified of the activities of pirates, we printed a huge quantity and were able to sell each copy of the book cheaper than what the pirates were selling it. That way, we were able to frustrate those insufferable leeches out of that business,” Dillibe Onyema, a book publisher and chief executive of Delta Publications (Nigeria) Limited, said.

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Onyema noted, “a couple of other pirates, who — would you believe — were registered as bona fide publishers, tried to pirate our titles. We were tipped off, and I went and personally confronted them with threats of hellfire if they tried it. They backed off.”

From Lagos to Kano, Aba to Onitsha, Akure and Port Harcourt, Owerri to Ibadan, and Abuja, books are everywhere. As you travel the entire length of Nigeria, you’re sure to see books arranged for everyone to pick from the variety of options.

However, most of these books are illegal, pirated and photocopied versions. A quick glance at these books and you can easily notice the pathetic quality of paper, printing and the dull colours on the cover. Most of them are sold at throwaway prices as compared to the real market cost. These cheap versions are sometimes sold at one-fifth the market price set by publishers and authors.

The Guardian gathered that some of these pirates don’t see anything wrong with this illegal act. To them, piracy is a victimless crime. A lot of these books are usually school text. The next are the bestselling books from contemporary foreign authors and motivational books, whose authors are unaware of this parallel universe of illegal copies of their writing.

“The agenda of pirates is not to develop but to steal, to kill and destroy. Pirates steal from creative industries; they kill creativity and destroy the national economy,” the Director General of Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), Dr. John Asein, declared.

The business is highly organized. Once a research is complete about best selling books, payment is made by all involved to an importer, who does all the transactions including printing. On arrival in Lagos, each person picks his luggage.

Albert Chukwu, who sells books near one of the banks in Ajao Estate, said, “motivationals, best sellers and biographies are the most sought after books.”

His stock includes novels by John Grisham, Robert Ludlum, and Daniele Steele along with motivational books by Brian Tracy, Jack Welch, Napoleon Hill.”

Books by the immediate past American president, Barack Obama and the current president, Donald Trump, whose writings on business are popular with Nigeria’s many aspiring entrepreneurs. Chukwu said motivational books aimed at making “people rich or attain spiritual fulfillment are popular. People buy them a lot.”

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According to Asein, when, for instance, you see a container load of Bibles, they are all pirated. At a recent meeting with Christian Booksellers Association, three major Christian booksellers said they had stopped selling books. “One of them used to be a former president. The other said she now sells stationeries only. One said he does not import serious books anymore, why? Because the pirates just came in, took over the market. You know, these things are easy. If you go to the streets, you see all these motivational books, Nigerians read a lot of that now and the pirates know and they say, ‘no, the authors are not here, so, why are you worried?’ But you have to be worried because we should be concerned about those books, the way we also want those countries to be concerned about our own books, and you know our films are also going out now. If you go to Ghana, Liberia, Sierra-Leone, Nigerian films are being treated the way we treated American films, so you see 20-something films in one. It has to be stopped,” said the NCC boss.

“We have a choice to silence piracy and spare the life and soul of books or allow piracy grow and let the book go under,” Asein stressed. He said some of the authors whose books were highly pirated included those of Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka; former Presidents like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as well as the media adviser of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Olusegun Adeniyi.

The Guardian investigations revealed that because of the zero duty on books, unscrupulous importers now make false declarations either to evade payment of duty or as a decoy to smuggle in prohibited goods.

All what pirates do is to go to China and India to print and bring them into the country. It was gathered that the variety and choice of pirated books, you would see that they are well researched and updated in terms of popularity.

Many have noted that piracy is one of the biggest disservice any industry can do to the hard work and efforts of the authors in question. Such a parallel and illegal economy and sales of their books can deeply impact the legitimate volume of sales from the publishers and distributors side.

Asein, however, blames the poor investment climate on this. “We found that the reason why people go out is because the paper mills are not working and it’s a shame. I think we should have investors who can go to the paper mills and revive them, because one of the biggest component of the book is paper and that’s why it will always be cheaper to go out and print.”

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Recently, a container load of suspected pirated books, valued at over N20 million, belonging to different publishers, was impounded in a joint operation by NCC and Nigerian Customs Service (NCS). In the case of the intercepted container, the Children’s Bible Stories were intended to conceal the pirated books.

In the same vein, three broadcasting facilities engaged in pirating the broadcast signals of several right owners including Star Times, Communications Trends Nigeria Limited (CTL) and MultiChoice Nigeria (MCN) were closed down during joint enforcement operations carried out by NCC and the Department of State Services (DSS) in Aba and Umuahia, Abia State.

The illegal stations were sealed and broadcast contrivances impounded for being deployed in the illegal distribution of pay TV channels and unauthorised retransmission of other cable TV’s protected contents in violation of the Copyright Act.

Based on intelligence and surveillance reports, the broadcast facilities of Popular Broadcasting Service (PBS) and Modern Communication Limited (MCL) being used for copyright infringement activities were confiscated on Thursday, March 12, 2020 while employees engaged in broadcast piracy were arrested during joint enforcement operations by three separate teams of NCC and DSS operatives.

Arts and culture practitioners believe that if the country’s oil wells dry up, Nigeria is endowed with a viable repertoire of creative industries that can sustain it, economically. They, however, say if Nigeria will succeed in its efforts at diversifying the economy beyond income from oil, priority must be placed on protection of right owners. They are of the view that the country must develop its creative potentials and harness benefits of the copyright sector on a sustainable basis.

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According to them, the fight against piracy is not for NCC alone, but for everyone. There is need to intensify efforts at different production, distribution and sales points; at border posts; air and sea ports; hotels, malls and other public places; and on the streets, as part of a comprehensive action plan against all forms of piracy and copyright abuses.

But many have asked what is the security of those investments with pirates still lurking on the scene?
According to Asein, “One of the things you must invest in is the protection of the works. So, if you invest in movies, you must put a little in percentage to protect that movie.”

To him, “it’s not about the collaterals, it’s about providing safe corridors for them to get to the market and to sell and what we commit to is that until an investor gets a return on investments, government must watch closely to ensure that there are no hemorrhages along the way.”

Onyema said, “piracy would remain immortal for as long as a huge market continues to remain available for books selected by the ‘JAMB’ and ‘WAEC’ boards, or for titles, which hit the bestseller list. It is lucrative, operated by a structured and organised crime syndicate that looks after the police and can always buy its way out of trouble.”

For him, “there is no amount of punitive legislation that the government can pass to drive pirates out of business. Our people are criminally minded. Corruption has eaten through to our blood, bone and marrow; and unless you are going to carry out genocide on the Nigerian population, you have to rely on your individual wits to outsmart the pirates – who, like all criminals, will engage good lawyers to imprison you in the courtroom with legal niceties.”

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He added, while the efforts of NCC to curb the menace are commendable, at the end of the day, they barely scratch the surface because the commission lacks the resources to prosecute the perpetrators to the end. It is almost as frustrating as the fake goods industry — which has pretty much been left to flourish out of control – to the extent that it is now taken for granted.”

Onyema, however, added a caveat, “since writers belong to the creative realm, let them come up with creative remedies to outsmart the pirates and enjoy their royalties.”

Speaking further, the DG stated that ‘’there is a need for all stakeholders to partner against book piracy in schools in order to sanitise the system so it does not cripple the book industry.’’

The Guardian gathered there’s ‘below the radar’ piracy going on. People now sell pirated books online. These online firms don’t stock materials; they just provide a platform, so, when you make an order, they have their vendors, who will now supply. Among these vendors are pirates or pirate outlets.

Asein said, “so, when you place an order, and the book lands, and you find out its pirated, don’t be surprised that the person that sold it to you directly is probably in Ojuelegba or Ajegunle. Somebody must take responsibility.”

The NCC, Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA) and Book Sellers Association of Nigeria (BSAN) recently intensified their partnership as a way to boost the fight against book piracy in Nigeria.

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At the meeting, President of NPA, Mr. Adedapo Gbadega, noted that over 75 per cent of proceeds accruable from books were consumed yearly by book pirates, as most proprietors deal directly with pirates thereby depriving authors and publishers of getting value for their labour.

Late last year, the U.S. Mission in Nigeria and the American Business Council, in partnership with the government of Nigeria and members of the private sector, hosted a two-day Intellectual Property (IP) symposium on the theme, The Bane of Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals and Piracy.

At the event, she urged stakeholders — government, consumers and businesses — to join forces in ensuring the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.

U.S. Embassy Chargé D’affaires, Kathleen FitzGibbon, who gave an opening remark, highlighted the importance of intellectual property rights protection, which enables the innovation and creativity needed to bolster economic growth.

Chargé FitzGibbon noted that strong intellectual property rights protection is essential to creating jobs and opening new markets for goods and services.

“This is not just an American issue, this is a global issue and as Nigeria moves ahead with goals of diversifying and shifting to a knowledge-based economy, a strong intellectual property rights regime will help attract investment and protect Nigerian ideas and Nigerian businesses,” Chargé FitzGibbon said.

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