Piracy: Miscreants giving Alaba Int’l bad name –John Asein, NCC DG

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By Christy Anyanwu

Dr. John  Ohireime Asein was appointed Director  General, Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC) in January 2019.  

He was the executive  director, Reproduction  Rights Society of Nigeria from 2017 to 2019. He is an author, law teacher, and IP enthusiast.

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Asein was one of the speakers at the two-day U.S. Mission Intellectual Property  Symposium to commemorate World IP Day held in Lagos recently and he spoke with Sunday Sun after the event. Excerpt:

How long have you been the DG of Nigeria Copyright Commission?

I have been the DG since 2019.

How has it been since 2019?

It’s got its bumpy part of the road, but it’s been interesting. We have passed the learning curve, but  keep learning new things every day. It’s challenging because you’ve seen new issues coming up you have to deal with. It’s been fulfilling because you’ve seen the immediate effect of some of the work showing up and you see people who wear some smile because they appreciate the work the commission is doing. All that put together, I would say it’s been interesting.

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What’s your vision for the Commission?  

My vision would certainly be tied to the vision of the government of the day. One of the things we take away from the vision is to provide more congenial business environments, to provide safe corridors for creative works to be produced and exploited and to have a copyright system that really works, A copyright system that the consumers or the users will be comfortable with, and a copy right system that is comparable to any copyright system in the world. And the copyright systems that will help sustain a balanced and effective creative eco-system.

What are your plans regarding protection of artistes rights?

The plans we have are set out for us essentially by the provisions of the acts and good enough we have just begun the process or we are near the end of the process of repealing and re-enacting the copyright Acts. But we have put in place provisions that would make it easier for us to achieve our goals. Our plan essentially is to see that the copyright system in Nigeria is not only meeting the global standard, but we are able to turn around the creative sector. We have seen that Nigeria is virtually doing well in all aspect of creative sector. We’re doing well in music, We’re doing well in film, We’re doing well in visual arts and we are doing well in publishing. We are also doing well in transmitting these materials to different users,  but the legal frame work for that to be done more  effectively is very important and that is the immediate deliverable that  we see  coming when we hope that the copyright acts would have come to be. The senate has passed the bill, the executive has a strong influence on the bill that has emerged and we are believing that soon there will be a concurrence at the House of Representatives. That will launch us to be a catalyst; it will launch us to a new level, a more intense use of the copyright system at different levels both online and off-line.

What message do you have for artistes; most of them complain a lot about Alaba boys pirating their works?

The Alaba phenomenon is not just about the Alaba we know in Lagos. The Alaba phenomenon has its positive side. It shows the spirit of those in Alaba who are able to support the creative sector. In fact, a lot of people from Alaba had been very supportive of the film sector and you see a lot of nollywood movies having Alaba people as the executive producers.  That tells me that there’s a lot of positive contributions from Alaba, but because of some   miscreants or some elements that have gone into illicit activities, people now think Alaba means piracy. It’s not.  But having said that, for those who are involved in illicit trade we are coming after them at different levels at different point. We have the music people, we have the film, we have the book piracy going on and we meet them either at the point of production or we wait for them at the point of distribution.  But at the end of the day what we want to achieve is to bring the piracy level in Nigeria to a single digit and to provide more congenial atmosphere for those involved in investing in creative sectors to begin to get return on their intellectual and financial investments.              

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Since you assume office in 2019, what are the challenges?

Our challenges are the usual challenge you find around every establishments. I don’t want to begin to mix the challenges. I don’t want to go into the issue of funding; I don’t want to go into the issue of inadequate manpower, the issue of capacity and all that. But the biggest challenge incidentally is with the public. And I will give you a very simple illustration. If I give you a counterfeit medicine and say well, this is a counterfeit analgesic and I gave you a whole pack. You will likely trash it.

You won’t take it home because you see it as injurious. But I gave you a pirated DVD of a movie, you will take it home and watch. So, the public is always willing. They run away from counterfeit medicine, but they embrace pirated works. So, the average man on the streets will gladly embrace and watch  a pirated movie, he will be happy to read a pirated book, it doesn’t matter how bad the book is , he still prefers to read the pirated book so long as  it’s cheap enough. So, the attitude is a big challenge. Getting people to understand that when you patronized pirated works you are invariably short-changing the author. You are invariably reducing the market of the publisher or the producer and you are invariably killing the spirit of creativity that we so much treasure and in the long run you will end up creating or contributing to the knowledge famine that we find in many countries where we don’t have enough materials being regenerated to sustain the education system, to sustain entertainment industries, and to sustain the general knowledge ecosystem in the society.

So, what are you doing in the area of enlightening Nigerians to know more about copyright, many Nigerians don’t know much about copyright laws?

That is why we are talking. I believe enlightenment is one person at a time. And any opportunity we have to talk to people we do that. Today, alone we’ve had more than one engagement just to talk about the creative sector and the importance of respect for copy right. We are having a lot to do with children because we believe that it is good to catch them young. We are establishing more creativity and copyrights clubs in schools, we are generating more materials to bring the copyright issues a small bite that anyone can read and understand. And we are also partnering more with the media to have them support us. We will be appointing more copyrights ambassadors who will help us take the message to the public.

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In what areas would you want the national assembly to make legislations about the commission?

The Senate just passed the copyright bill and hopefully the House of Representatives will soon be up. We believe that there will certainly be areas that will require changes in the very near future. We will set for ourselves a timeline to come back, maybe after three or five years and do an assessment of where the copyright legislation is. Even though we are hoping that we will have a copyright act this year, we should be able to come back after three years to evaluate and see what new areas require attention. We have the powers to make regulations, and we do that more this time around.  We just hope that the national assembly will be responsive to whatever new areas we bring to them as we move forward.

Before this office what were you doing?

I have worked a greater part of my life in the intellectual property field in the area of Copyright. After my youth service, I started out as a lecturer in the University of Calabar. I taught there for some years and I began my foray into intellectual property there, writing IPs. Then I joined Nigerian Copyright Commission in 1992 and I worked there up to 2016. So, I have spent the greater part of my life in copyright area. In the course of this, I had to do teaching. I taught at the University of Abuja. I also taught outside, I was one of those teaching at the African University in   Zimbabwe, I teach IP in the MIP programme. I have done a lot of things and I have spent more time doing research and writing. I have a major text book in copyright; I have a major text book on Nigeria legal system.

Are you a lawyer?

Yes. I am a lawyer. I’m also a law teacher and researcher. So because of that I understand how it is with authors.  The pain that publishers go through and incidentally, I think I came out with the first book to be born accessible in Nigeria. That was last year. A book is born accessible when that book is published at the point where both the sighted and the blind will have access to that book.  The best practice that the Nigeria copyright commission is encouraging publishers to embrace now is to start by making those books available to the blind even before the sighted gets the physical copies. We got that book out in braille and we got it out in hip hop version that the blind could easily read before the physical copy was published. That is because of my experience and understanding of the needs of the blind. We need campaigns for more publishers and more authors to make their book available for the blind to read. As we are talking about innovation and, creativity, we should remember that there are a lot of inventions that came out for the blind community, there are a lot of blind people who are excelling in music, who are excelling in so many other areas and they are a major part of the society and under the prohibition of discrimination acts, no blind person should be left unattended to. The Nigeria copyright commission is a major partner of the Nigeria Association of the Blind. We use every opportunity to mention them as one area that the copyright system is also addressing. That is one major provision in the new copyright bill that addresses the needs of the blind as required under the Marrakesh treaty, which is that visually impaired persons and persons with disability should have access to reading and information materials.

What importance is this programme to your commission?

It’s important to Nigeria, it’s important to every person who have interest in innovation and creativity. It’s important because the youth have the energy, the youth have a  special  edge over the older ones because in today’s technology driven world, a youth in my village is able to access information from any part of the world and he’s able to contribute , he’s able to upload his music in my local dialects. He’s able to perform his own skills and send it to any part of the world and they are best equipped to use this technology. So we must draw attention to the importance and how they can best know their talents and their ideas from that village using the vehicle of technology and using the power of intellectual property take it to the market and make money even though they are still in the village. It’s also important, if you get it right, you allow all these youths to channel their energies to those creative and innovative areas then they will have less time for mischief, they will probably have less time for disruptive activities. They will be able to contribute and believe in the country they are contributing to and therefore believe in Nigeria. So, using IP to connect people to make wealth for themselves will help us to have a more peaceful, a more sustainable and a more restful society that we all dream about and we know that there are a lot of them if you don’t allow them channel those energies positively they will channel in the energy in the dark allies of mischief. So it’s better you point them and assist them to do it right so that we can all be at peace with ourselves and with our tomorrow.

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