Posted by Olaniyi Abodedele on Thursday, January 23, 2014 Under: Feature Articles

It is hard to avoid Nigerian movies and music in Africa and it is spreading like wild fire across Europe and America. Public buses in some African countries show and play them, as do many restaurants and hotels. Nollywood as the business is known, churns out about 50 full-length features a week, making it the world’s biggest most prolific film industry. The Nigerian business capital, Lagos, is said by locals to have produced more films than there are stars in the sky. The streets are flooded with camera crews shooting on location. Only the government employs more people.

Nigerian films and music are as popular abroad as they are at home. Ivorian rebels in the bush stopped fighting when a shipment of DVDs arrived from Lagos. Mothers across Africa say their children talk with accents learnt from Nigerian movies. When the president of Sierra Leone asked Genevieve Nnaji, a Lagos screen goddess to join him on the campaign trail, he attracted record crowds at rallies. Millions of Africans watch Nigerian films every day, now many more than they see American films.

Piracy is a very big business all over the world including Nigeria, and governments in developed countries are doing all they can to tackle the issue in order to protect peoples’ intellectual works of art.

However, the reverse is the case in Nigeria and amongst Nigerians wherever they are found around the world. It would not be an understatement to say that the Nigerian work of arts especially music and movies ranks amongst one of the most abused and pirated works worldwide. Some quarters internationally have been quick to react and say perhaps it’s a blessing to the industry in Nigeria and instead of it affecting the industry. It is actually helping the industry grow at a steady rate pushing Hollywood out of the African market. Success of the Nigerian movie and music industry seem to be beyond economic analyses. Some will immediately point out ‘CORRECTLY’ that these are much lower budgets than the traditional Hollywood picture, but apparently, many of the movies have pretty good plots and acting and they seem to be doing pretty well across the whole of Africa, not just Nigeria. In fact, the report notes that the infringement may be a big part of why Nigerian films are so successful:

Kevin Kelly from the business-models-change dept of the Economist noticed that three countries that are normally considered "hotbeds" of unauthorized copies all seemed to house the largest movie industries:

The three largest film industries in the world are India, Nigeria and China. Nigeria cranks out some 2,000 films a year (Nollywood), India produces about 1,000 a year (Bollywood) and China less than 500. Together they produce four times as many films per year as Hollywood. Yet each of these countries is a haven, even a synonym, for rampant piracy. How do post-copyright economics work? How do you keep producing more movies than Hollywood with no copyright protection for your efforts?

This question was pertinent because the rampant piracy in the movie cultures of India, China and Nigeria seemed to signal a future for Hollywood. Here in the West we seem to have headed to YouTube land where all movies are free. In other words we are speeding towards the copyright-free zones represented by China, India and Nigeria today. If so, are these movie industries operating smack in the middle of the cheap, ubiquitous copies flooding their countries? Do they have any idea of survival to pass on to Hollywood?

The fact is that Hollywood is losing its grip on the movie industry in Africa, given that; Hollywood insists that "piracy" kills the movie industry, it certainly seemed worth noting that the Nigerian movie industry is hugely thriving despite (or perhaps because of) widespread infringement. Filmmakers in Nigeria all seem to recognize that obscurity is a bigger issue than "piracy," in a way because they have to deal with government censors. So they realized that getting the films seen is the biggest issue, and they can monetize on the backend by offering other types of scarce value.

The industries in Nigeria also make money by licensing their movies to TV stations that are desperate for content, suggesting that there are almost always other channels where revenue can be obtained.  African Diasporas in the West pay good money to see films from home. BSkyB, a British satellite broadcaster and Odeon, a cinema chain, both show Nollywood classics. DSTV a cable channel in Africa is also thriving on Nollywood movies. Consumer-goods companies offer sponsorship big deals.

The ironic success of Nollywood is that Nigerian merchants curse the pirates, but in a way they are a blessing. Pirate gangs were probably Nollywood’s first exporters. They knew how to cross tricky borders and distribute goods across disparate continents where vast tracts of land are inaccessible. Nigerians Sometimes filled empty bags with films when returning from home to various countries across the world. Often films are offered as a bribe to the guards at remote borders. Pirates created the pan-African market feeds.

Copyright infringement is often just a more efficient distribution system and if you can figure out how to use that distribution mechanism to your own benefit, you can be much better off. In fact, it sounds like many are doing that and the massive success of Nigerian movie and music industry have opened up all sorts of new opportunities for movie makers.

This would not have been possible if the movies and music weren't getting so much attention. On top of that, for those who will continue to claim that the quality of these movies suck, it appears that the quality is improving. That's because with so much competition, moviemakers are looking to stand out from the crowd, and one way to do that is to improve your product. In other words, just as we've said for years, you've got a situation where competition is leading to innovation and higher quality, even in the absence of copyright protections... Funny, that some still insist that without copyright (or without strong copyright enforcement), no movie industry could exist. Nigeria and Nigerians have proved that copyright infringement can be used to better the quality of the movie industry.

Now, obviously, the situations in all the three countries are not ideal. And, no, I'm not saying that the answer to Hollywood's fears is to go down these paths directly (though, I have no doubt that someone will accuse me of saying exactly that).
But looking at the big picture, despite the rampant piracy, the movie industry does not die and can thrive. And it does so by finding alternative streams of revenue, combined with focusing on the scarce value that can be provided, combined with embracing the promotional nature of the unauthorized films. Also, part of the strategy involves actually acknowledging that unauthorized copies are part of the competition, rather than just thinking of them as something illegal that must be stopped.

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