NCC at 30:
Thomas Mgbanngun is the state coordinator of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, NCC, Benue State Office. From his office in Makurdi, he over looks Nasarawa and Taraba state offices. In this interview with The Abuja Inquirer's SCHOLASTICA JOSEPH, in Makurdi, Mr. Mgbanngun said copyright owners are dying in penury due to the activities of pirates. He said while the commission celebrates its 30 years of existence, on August 19, 2019, it was working on strengthening the copyright laws to eradicate piracy in the country. Excerpts:
Tell us about the Copyright Commission?
Nigeria Copyright Commission was established in 1989 under Decree 47 of 1988 and now we are in a democratic setting, we no longer use Decrees. So it’s now codified as Cap C28 of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.
The vision of the commission is to harness creativity for national development. We have some statutory mandate which includes to promote, protect creativity, regulate and to enforce copyright industry in Nigeria.
Copyright is the creation of the mind and creators have the right to benefit from their sweat. Over the years, we discovered that there are some criminal elements with intent to benefit illegally from the works or creations of others, so, this is where NCC comes in.
The law regulating this industry is called Copyright Act. Section 1 of the Copyright Act identified some areas that we regulate. These are areas like musical, the artistic, the literary, sound recording, cinematography and broadcasting. When we protect copyright, we don’t protect real ideas or facts because idea everybody can use.
For instance, the Biafran Civil War, Elechi Amadi has written about it and many other people. So it is the expression, the fixation of those ideas that is protected. Once you express those ideas, it is the uniqueness that is protected and once your copyright is infringed upon, we go after that person.
We have a scheme known as Notification scheme, we have a data base and we collect the works of people, the idea is, anywhere in the world, we will know that this work belongs to this or that person and when you do notification, there is proof of evidence of ownership to prove your case and to show that this work belongs to you.
What has the Benue office been doing and how many cases have you treated in Benue?
We have done a lot. Basically our work is to protect copyright. How do we do it? We create awareness among right owners and stakeholders and we carry out some anti-piracy activities; we go on surveillance and identify some copyright threats, we go on raids, we have even made some arrests and there are cases that are prosecuted, there are some convicts.
You mentioned that many people don’t know about NCC, the problem is that many people are ignorant of the copyright industry and many don’t even know that they have the right to their works.
The present management headed by Mr. John Asein has been doing a lot. We have been creating awareness even among the peasants, synergizing with other agencies that will help us we go on audio visual media, road walks taking the message to those who have no opportunity to hear us. We have actually prosecuted a lot of cases and convicted a number of criminals.
With the internet, how have you been able to monitor activities of pirates?
Like you observed, that has been one of the challenges we are facing. First, there is a lot of ignorance, people don’t know the use of internet and even when you say analogue, they still don’t know. This is the reason why other parts of the world, many pirates see Africa as a black spot for piracy and criminal activities. They know that we have weak legislations and Africa is considered as a dumping ground for counterfeit goods. The most popular one that is affecting us negatively now is the internet streaming piracy.
What we are doing now to contain this is training and retraining of staff, bringing in experts to train our people. As I am talking, there is an attempt to amend the copyright act. If you look through the copyright act, it did not include the digital aspect of intellectual property. So, there is a bill undergoing some readings.
When the Act is passed into law, we will have an effective copyright act that will take care of online or digital piracy. We are also creating awareness and training people to know the use of devices and gadgets that are used to trace pirates online, some other countries are using it so we are trying to catch up.
So, those pirates are still here because of the lacuna in the aspect of the law and knowledge but we are doing our best to catch up. We are not joking and we are extending to stakeholders. Somebody can make use of your books or other works, reproduce them cheaply online and make a lot of money and you won’t know. So we are getting those devices that can identify those malicious websites with the aim of blocking or bringing them down. We are working hard to upgrade our staff to use them.
Apart from the challenge posed by the internet, what other challenges are faced by the commission?
I might not be competent to speak on the issue of policy but just as I mentioned, we have weak legislation, ignorance, people don’t know their rights. People don’t know the dangers and risk they face in copyright infringements or piracy. When we go out for anti-piracy activities, I discovered that unlike NAFDAC enjoys more public sympathy than copyright commission.
When NAFDAC discover a spot where there are counterfeit drugs and go there to raid it, the public will cooperate and support them but for us, when we go on anti-piracy activities, people look at us as if we are going to destroy the livelihood of innocent people. This has been one of our major challenges. We all know that piracy is worse than armed robbery. It is very dangerous and it destroys.
Another challenge we face is that of ignorance. People are unaware of the negative impact piracy is having on our society. Copyright is a catalyst for economic and national development. We cannot deny that. As a specie of intellectual property, it contributes to the overall wealth of the nation. So we need to harness it. So many people go and borrow more to invest but at the end, they don’t get anything from such investment because of the activities of pirates.
You mentioned that piracy is on the increase in the country, is there going to be any way out of this, at least to minimize piracy in the country?
Our focus is to eradicate piracy in Nigeria and not to minimize it. We are working on stringent laws and we are lobbying the National Assembly to ensure that the amendment is hastened up and the bills passed into law so that we have a robust copyright act. When people understand that what they are doing has some kinds of repercussions, they will be very careful.
In some other climes, if the law catches up with you, you are a goner but here in Africa, in Nigeria, we have weak legislation and that is the challenge. I think that a good legislation is very important and to also have knowledgeable people that can detect the activities of those pirates on the net is also important.
You said the commission will be celebrating 30 years of existence. What is it all about?
The Copyright Commission was established on August 19, 1989 to be precise and on the 19 of this month, we are going to be celebrating our 30 years in existence. The purpose of the celebration is to take stock of the past, what we have done and to chart a course and see where we are going, to understand what we are doing and how best we are going to do it.
The theme is, “Changing the Copyright Narratives”. According to the DG, it is going to be a three months activity. It will begin on the 19, which is a Monday, and will feature stakeholders’ interactive session, road walk, lectures, quiz and readings for students and children, presentations, media chats, VIP visits among others to help us synergize with them and create awareness to fight piracy.