Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Nigerian Piracy Case Moves Forward

The Nigerian national papers are abuzz with the news. The “King of Pirates”, Tony Onwujewekwe, has been arraigned before the Federal High Court in Lagos. It’s such big news that even the BBC has reported on it (audio story).

Alaba Market

Tony Onwujewekwe is a business man active in Alaba Market. Alaba Market is one of the largest markets on the West African coast. People travel from all across Nigeria and from many neighboring countries to shop in the large Lagos market. Throughout the past decade, Alaba has been a thorn in the side of the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), the Nollywood industry and the Nigerian music industry. The market is notorious for its pirated goods. Shoppers can find cheap video discs of even the most newly released Nigerian and international films. Music cds go for USD $.50 to $1. Alaba isn’t only popular because of its low prices, but also because it is often the only place to find some of the top entertainment products. (See Nollyzone for an account of attempt to build an alternative to Alaba.)

The NCC has conducted a number of raids on Alaba market over the years, some of them resulting in severe injuries to police officers when the market sellers fought back. By 2008, the NCC had negotiated a memorandum of understanding with Alaba sellers who dealt in legitimate goods. This lead to attacks by pirate sellers against the legitimate sellers. Fear rose and piracy in Alaba did not abate.

Arrest and Prosecution of Tony Onwujewekwe

Last November, the NCC again went to Alaba. This time, they arrested the man they believe to be the king pin in Alaba’s piracy business, the so called King of Pirates. (World Premier Entertainment has an account of the proceedings leading up to the arrest on its blog.) The arraignment was yesterday. This will be an interesting case to watch going forward.

The Charges

According to The Punch, Tony Onwujewekwe is charged with three counts of violating the Nigerian Copyright Act. One count under Section 20(1)(a) – criminal liability for making for infringing copies of works for sale or causing them to be made for sale -, one count under 20(2)(a) – selling or leasing infringing copies of works - and one count under 20(2)(c) – possessing infringing copies of works for non-personal use.

Potential Punishment

For those who are interested, the statute requires Mr. Onwujewekwe to prove he did not know or had no reason to know the copies were infringing, otherwise he is guilty under Section 20. The punishment listed in the statute for violations of Section 20(2) is a fine of N100 for each infringing copy, up to two years in prison, or both. Violations of Section 20(1) are punishable by a fine of up to N1,000 for each infringing copy, up to five years in prison, or both.


Update 10, Feb. 2010 The Sun has reported that Mr. Onwujewekwe is to remain in custody at least until his bail hearing on 18th February. The trial is set for 23 February.

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