War against piracy widens, as Buhari signs WIPO internet treaties

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Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed (middle) with stakeholders in the creative industry during his visit to COSON House in Lagos... recently

The field of copyright and related rights has expanded enormously with the progress in technology in recent past. This has brought new ways of spreading creative content by such forms of worldwide communication as satellite broadcast and compact discs. But dissemination of works via the Internet is a latest development that raises new questions concerning copyright protection.

Available record shows that on a yearly basis, Nigeria loses billions of naira to software and intellectual property thieves. The fear is that if the trend is not checked, the activities of software and intellectual property pirates may lead to further economic loses for the country that is still grappling with economic challenges. At the moment, government estimates that it loses over N127 billion yearly to pirates, particularly to intellectual property thieves.

For many years, stakeholders and practitioners in the creative industries have continuously requested a proper engagement with the government on the challenges facing the sector. However, the recent decision by the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) to set up a Cybercrime Advisory Committee to ensure the total and effective implementation of the 2015 Cybercrime Act is seen by observers, as a bold move to stem the tide. Again, the resolve by the current administration to regularly engage with stakeholders to craft policies and strategies that would help tackle the menace is a sign that there might be light at the end of the tunnel.

Recent investigation shows that, within just two months of active engagement between government and key players in the creative industry, a lot has already happened. And to a large extent, credit must be given to the leadership of Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) for spearheading the process that is gradually yielding positive results.

For instance, on July 10, 2017, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, held a Roundtable Conference with key stakeholders at Renaissance Hotel, Ikeja. For nine hours, the minister, in company of some heads of agencies in the ministry, listened to practitioners, as well as discussed the way forward for the industry. About five days later, Mohammed paid a historic visit to COSON House to have a firsthand experience organisation in the creative industry operating at world class standard despite the immense challenges.

Also, the Creative Industry Financing Conference, at the instance of Mohammed, took place on July 17 and 18, at Eko Hotel & Suites, Lagos. It had in attendance significant stakeholders and experts in finance from home and abroad. Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, represented the Acting President at the event, while the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Mr. Okechukwu Enelamah, was present, alongside the host Minister of Information and Culture, Mohammed, who attended every session and participated in the discussions.

On July 24, representatives of the creative industry, led by Mohammed, met with the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and the police high command in Abuja to discuss strategies for executing a total war against the piracy of music, movies, literature and other creative products. The meeting also discussed ideas on how to curb the piracy that has sucked the blood of creative Nigerians and made viable investment in the industry not as profitable as it ought to be.

By July 31, a high powered committee, made up of creative industry stakeholders, senior officers of the Nigeria Police and representatives of key government enforcement agencies, was inaugurated in Abuja by the minister to streamline and execute an unprecedented fight against piracy as demanded by the creative industry practitioners.

And just two weeks after the Creative Industry Financing Conference, exactly on August 3, the Federal Government announced the decision to confer ‘Pioneer Status’ on the creative industry. Then status covers music production, publishing and distribution (including online digital distribution), photography, production and post-production of digital content for motion pictures, videos, television programmes, commercials, distribution and exhibition (digital movies, animation, videos, TV programmes and commercials), publishing of books (copyrighted books) and development and publishing of ready-made software (operating systems, software applications and computer games).

The ‘Pioneer Status’ grants investors in the related industries a three-year tax holiday, which may be extended for another one or two years. It was one of the major requests of stakeholders at the Creative Industries Financing Conference. And by August 14, a major raid of pirated movies was carried out at Alaba International Market, Ojo, Lagos, in the spirit of the new war against piracy.

However, the highpoint was President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to sign the WIPO Internet Treaties (WPPT & WCT) and the Marrakesh Treaty, another important request made at the Stakeholders Roundtable with Mohammed in Lagos. World intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) is deeply involved in the ongoing international debate to shape new standards for copyright protection in cyberspace. The organisation administers the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and the WIPO Performance and Phonogram Treaty (WPPT), which are together, known as the Internet Treaties. These Treaties set down international norms and standards aimed at preventing unauthorised access to and use of creative works on the Internet or other digital networks without prior permission from rights owners.

While WCT deals with the protection for authors of literary and artistic works, such as writing and computer programmes, original databases, musical works, audiovisual works, works of fine art and photographs, WPPT deals with the protection for rights of authors, performers and producers of phonograms. The purpose of the two treaties is to update and supplement the major existing WIPO Treaties on copyright and related rights, primarily in order to respond to developments in technology and in the new marketplace.

Since the Berne and the Rome Conventions were adopted or later revised more than a quarter of a century ago, new types of works, new markets, and new methods of use and dissemination of creative works or content have evolved. Among other things, both the WCT and the WPPT address the challenges posed by today’s digital technologies, but in particular, the dissemination of protected materials over digital networks such as the Internet.

Most importantly, the treaties ensure that the owners of these rights will continue to be adequately and effectively protected when their works are disseminated through new technologies and communications systems such as the Internet. The treaties thus clarify that existing rights continue to apply in the digital environment. They also create new online rights.

However, both treaties require each country to provide a framework of basic rights, allowing creators to control and/or be compensated for the various ways in which their creations are used and enjoyed by others. And to maintain a fair balance of interests between the owners of rights and the general public, the treaties further clarify that each country has reasonable flexibility in establishing exceptions or limitations to rights in the digital environment. This means that each country may, in appropriate circumstances, grant exceptions for uses deemed to be in the public interest, such as for non-profit educational and research purposes.

While speaking on these developments in the industry, COSON Chairman, Chief Tony Okoroji informed that what has been achieved so far in the last two months, as regards war against piracy, would, under a different clime, have taken several years to implement.

According to him, “All of them became possible because of the close engagement the creative industry has had with the Minister of Information and Culture, Mohammed, his clear headedness and dedication and his accommodating temperament. There’s still so much work to do, but there is no question that the minister has shown the ability to kick-start the intellectual property and creative revolution in our country that we have long called for.”

Okoroji also noted that if the country continued in this direction and at the pace it was going currently in the fight against piracy, it could inspire citizens to create and invent things of value with the assurance that every creativity and invention would be protected by the relevant authority and every creator and inventor could enjoy the fruits of his or her labour.

“We would then have taken a major step in assuring domestic and international investors that Nigeria is no longer a nation of ‘monkey dey work, baboon dey chop’ and that we are ready for the knowledge and digital economy,” he said. “We can then change the story of Nigeria forever.”

But in order to create a new environment for the music industry to thrive, COSON urged government to mobilise officials and ensure the full implementation of the Private Copy Levy scheme without any further delay. It also mandated the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to make it clear to all telecommunication companies operating in Nigeria that henceforth, there would be zero tolerance for the infringement of the intellectual property rights of Nigerians, whose works are deployed by these companies in their platforms, but which refuse to pay for content.

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