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How Piracy Threatens Africa’s Creative Potential

Africa’s fast-growing, dynamic and increasingly world-class video entertainment industry has surged ahead in the last decade, driven by rapid economic growth and demand for the best local content.

This flourishing sector has become critical to many of the continents’ largest economies in Nigeria the “Nollywood” is the second largest contributor to GDP. In 2014, the Nigerian government released data for the first time showing Nollywood is a $3.3 billion sectorCountries like Kenya, Zambia and Angola are catching up as invests in local comedies, dramas film and reality shows witness a steady growth year on year.

But this hugely important sector is under constant threat. Content piracy is becoming an increasingly serious problem, and experts across the continent have highlighted that it presents a major obstacle to the development of the creative industries in Africa, including the movie and entertainment industry.

Content piracy occurs when someone other than the copyright holder copies the product and resells it for a fraction of the cost that the legitimate producer charges. It is often portrayed as a victimless crime, but that portrayal is false many of those viewing pirated content do not realise the impact they are having on film makers and the health of local economies.

A conservative estimate for digital piracy affecting the Western movie industry (i.e. mostly Hollywood) globally is about US$22 billion annually. For Africa, which is home to much smaller and more vulnerable film industries, piracy could mean that they never get off the ground at all.

Technology is at the forefront of making entertainment more accessible for Africans, but it also brings new, and often complex threats. As broadband internet becomes increasingly accessible for an estimated 1 billion African consumers, facilitating the move to IPTV, faster Internet speeds at lower prices have opened what content security firm Verimatrix calls a “Pandora’s Box for pirates.”

Verimatrix says content redistribution is the new piracy, with redistribution a bigger part of the problem than the types of piracy we have seen in the last 10 years.

Piracy takes many forms across Africa, including signal piracy, peer to peer file sharing, illegal streaming and bootleg DVDs. Pirates operating at a commercial level tend to use bit torrents to access content illegally. This is then sold to street distributors who offer content for sale on the street.

The buyer will then share it with his or her friends, usually at no cost. Mobile apps, particularly on the Android platform are facilitating the rapid growth of stolen content.

The trends in mobile content piracy across Asia, which has a head start technologically on Africa, indicate that the fight against piracy will need to be intensified if we are to protect local content, local TV channels and ensure that African markets benefit from their creative industries.

Research from Irdeto earlier this year showed that peer-to-peer (P2P) piracy is the leading method of accessing movies and TV shows illegally. Their research also found that rapidly growing web video piracy is only exacerbating the global movie and TV piracy problem, rather than replacing P2P piracy.

Piracy negatively affects every single person working in the entertainment and technology industries, and their supply chains. Piracy means there is less money to invest in new technology, developing music, artists, and movies.

There is less work for developers, testers, sound engineers, videographers, actors, scriptwriters, musicians, assistants, set designers, security guards, stores, salespeople, website developers and every other type of person who goes into creating, packaging, advertising, distributing, supporting, promoting or reviewing these products and services. This includes the effect on artists and filmmakers’ rights and their payments.

Piracy also has a detrimental effect on the economy, since generally those involved in piracy do not pay for goods or services they use, don’t pay taxes and don’t employ staff. The money that they make on the theft, since that is what piracy ultimately is, goes only to their pockets and not the rightful owners of the rights or materials.

The fightback against piracy is well underway across the continent, but for Africa to triumph, this problem will need to be attacked from all angles. In August 2018, two of the leaders in the African film and television industry South Africa and Nigeria discussed strengthening ties aimed at improving film classification and combating piracy of the two countries’ content.

South Africa’s Film and Publication Board(FPB), said it was willing to work with Nigeria’s National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) to curb piracy.

The dialogue around piracy and the danger it presents to the continent’s creative industries needs to continue at the highest levels, and pay-TV providers, technology companies, content producers, regulators, lawmakers and police forces will need to work together closely to ensure a successful outcome.

International law enforcement agencies will also be a critical part of the solution because some of the pirates operate through international networks, as piracy extends beyond Africa.

Coupled with this, we will need to step up consumer education initiatives focused on explaining the vital importance of copyright to local economies. There are very clear laws across Africa about what people can and cannot do with purchased content.

The increasing digitisation of content available online means that technology to prevent piracy, track down pirates and prosecute them is improving rapidly. Pirates will get caught, and we have already seen arrests and convictions for piracy in Egypt, with two-year jail terms and massive fines handed out.

The battle is far from over, but we must prevail if the rest of Africa is to see the benefits of its creative growth potential in the same way that Nigeria has.

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