Nigerian Courts Step Up Against Copyright Piracy: 18 Convicted

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By Afam Ezekude

The last year has witnessed a series of convictions of copyright pirates by the Federal High Courts in Nigeria. Information provided by Afam Ezekude, the Director General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, the government agency responsible for copyright matters, shows that the courts have convicted copyright infringers in 18 cases within the last 5 months (October 2011 to February 2012).

According to this information, the Commission is currently prosecuting 63 criminal cases at the various divisions of the Federal High Court nationwide. Between January 2011 and February 2012, the Commission instituted 26 criminal cases covering the various categories of copyright infringement namely, books, CDs, software, and broadcast. So far, 18 of the cases have resulted in convictions of the accused persons with various levels of sentences imposed in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act

Three of the convictions are particularly significant because of the sentences.

In Charge Number FHC/KD/8C/2012: NCC VS. SUNDAY AYODELE; the Federal High Court sitting in Kaduna, in the northern part of Nigeria, convicted the accused person on all the three counts of piracy for which he was charged. A sentence of 6 months imprisonment was pronounced on each of the counts; while a cumulative fine of N250, 000 (two hundred and fifty thousand naira) was levied against the accused person. While the imprisonment term ran concurrently, the fine was cumulative. The accused had been charged for, among others, the offence of being in possession of, and distributing for commercial purposes, infringing copyright works in CDs and VCDs.

The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, on 8 March 2012 in Charge Number FHC/L/459C/2011: NCC VS EBENEZER OGUNDELE convicted the accused person on a four count charge of infringement, and sentenced him to a term of imprisonment for 6 months in each of the counts, without an option of fine.

In a similar development, on 12 March 2012, in Charge Number: FHC/ABJ/CR/10/2012: NCC VS. NWORE ANAYO, Honourable Justice Abdu-Kafarati of the Federal High Court No.2 in Abuja sentenced the accused person to six months imprisonment as well as a fine of N63, 310 (sixty three thousand, three hundred and ten naira). The accused was charged for being in possession of infringing copies of copyright works under section 20 (2) (c) of the Copyright Act, Cap C28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. Notably, the Court pronounced a sentence of both fine and imprisonment against the accused.

The importance of these cases lies in the sentences imposed by the courts. For instance, the sum of N250,000 (two hundred and fifty thousand naira) levied against the accused person by the Federal High Court sitting in Kaduna is the highest fine imposed by a court in a single copyright infringement case in the recent history of the Commission’s prosecution efforts. Also the mandatory imprisonment terms as in the two cases in Lagos and Abuja Divisions of the Federal High Court are the most stringent ever given. These Judgments reflect the underlying objective of the enforcement drive of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, which is to render the business of piracy not only unprofitable, but their consequences sufficiently damning.

The Director General of the Commission, Mr. Ezekude, stated that the Commission will intensify efforts in bringing to book all copyright infringers arrested in order to underscore the need for respect for rights of creators in Nigeria; and to also demonstrate that Nigeria is no longer a safe haven for poachers of intellectual property rights.

Nigeria is known to have a dynamic and vibrant creative industry. The Nigerian Film industry popularly known as “NOLLYWOOD” is adjudged as the third largest movie industry in terms of volume of production. The local music industry has also witnessed significant growth in the last decade with local artists gaining greater international recognition.

The high concentration of educational institutions has also supported a thriving publishing sector. With the growing national population in excess of 150 million, the market for creative products is steadily expanding, thereby setting the stage for piracy.

In the last year, the Nigerian Copyright Commission has stepped up the tempo of its anti-piracy operations. Several anti-piracy raids were conducted resulting in the seizure of more than 285,342 units of pirated copyright works estimated at N150,000,000 (one hundred and fifty million naira). The seized items included pirated CDs, VCDs, & DVDs (films, sound recordings) books, software and illegal broadcast equipments. A total of 129 suspects were arrested within the period. The anti-piracy operations continued with more vigour this year. Several anti-piracy operations have already been carried out since the beginning of the year. Notably, two raids have been carried out in the notorious Alaba Market in Lagos, the Commercial capital of Nigeria. The Market has the highest concentration of distributors of music CDs and Films. In one of the raids, carried out in the early hours of 13th March 2012, operatives of the Commission arrested 6 persons caught in the act of illegal duplication CDs, VCDs and DVDs. More than N 30 million (thirty million naira) worth of pirated CDs, VCDs, DVDs as well as CD duplicating machines; printers and printed CD Jackets used in the illegal activities were confiscated. The Commission is carrying out further investigations to unmask their collaborators, and to also facilitate the commencement of prosecution in court as soon as possible.

Earlier in the year, on 25 January 2012, the Commission carried out a public destruction of 722,000,000 units of pirated works and contrivances estimated at N6.5 billion. These items were among those confiscated during anti-piracy raids carried out in the literary, broadcast and optical disc industries between 2007 and 2011. Apart from the need to demonstrate publicly the Government’s zero tolerance policy towards piracy, it was also considered important to dispose of such pirated material in a manner that would ensure that they do not find their way into the channels of trade.

The Nigerian Copyright Act confers on the Nigerian Copyright Commission regulatory and enforcement functions including the power to appoint Copyright Inspectors, whose duties include investigation, arrests and prosecution of copyright offences under the law.

The copyright industry in Nigeria accounts for substantial input to national economy through job creation and export potentials. The Nigerian Copyright Commission’s objective is to promote the sustenance of the copyright industry by proactive protection and enforcement of the rights of creators of copyright works. The current development in the nation’s judiciary is considered as a fillip to the achievement of the Commission’s target.

Afam Ezekude is the Director-General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission. Mr. Ezekude is a trained lawyer and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1986. He attended Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where he obtained his LLB(Hons). He is a seasoned financial services professional with over 20 years experience in Compliance, Enforcement and Risk Management gained in the UK and EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Asia) region. He has held numerous global senior management roles in some of the world’s largest professional services companies including Watson Wyatt Worldwide and Mercer Limited. He has also worked with the United Kingdom financial Ombudsmans Service (FOS). In addition, Afam was a Manager with BDO Stoy Hayward Chartered Accountants where he was involved in advising large multinational financial services companies on compliance, regulation and risk management issues. He was for many years a guest lecturer on compliance and regulation at the UK Institute of Actuaries professionalism course for newly qualified members of the actuarial profession. Until his appointment, he was Director of Legal, Compliance and Risk Management with a leading UK stockbroking firm in the City of London.

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  1. says

    Thanks to Afam for the update ….
    It would be nice to know how much of NCC’s effort is geared toward capacity building and how much NCC fosters a development-oriented IP policy in Nigeria. I am quite concerned that given NCC’s clout in Nigeria as the most visible authority on IP, its continued high-handed enforcement orientation and regular dramatization of public burning of alleged infringing materials (even educational materials)shrinks the much needed public space for discussion of a development-oriented IP policy in Nigeria. Piracy of Nollywood movies is prevlanet in the US, Canada and elsewhere. It would interesting to know whether the NCC has been able to leverage its proactive enforcement, even of foreign-owned softwares, locally to elicit reciprocal interest by relevant foreign authorities in regard to stemming the illicit exploitation of Nollywood outside of Nigeria. If the state spends public resources prosecuting copyright (which is a right at the intersection of public and private)and imposing criminal sanctions, perhaps it is high time we considered extending to the accused in these cases the right to state funded legal defence as well. Finally, it would be interesting to know the DG’s insight on what the NCC thinks of the Nigerian public and other informal stakeholders as content producers in the process of creativity, especially in the Nollywood context.

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