By John Asein
I am pleased to be here to participate and speak at this International Conference as part of the 21st edition of the Nigeria International Book Fair with the theme: “Copyright and Sustainable Growth in the Book Ecosystem: Setting A New Agenda”.
I must commend the Nigerian International Book Fair Trust for sustaining this forum over the years. It is has continued to offer opportunity, not only to showcase Nigeria’s best literary products but also, and maybe more importantly, for stakeholders to discuss urgent policy issues and intervention needs concerning the book industry in the widest sense of that phrase. The Nigerian Copyright Commission is delighted that this year focuses on the importance of the copyright system as the life blood of a thriving book ecosystem. It is therefore a good place for the Commission to feel the pulse of critical stakeholders with a view to enhancing its service delivery in the administration, promotion, protection and enforcement of copyright in Nigeria.
It is instructive that the first copyright legislation, the Statute of Anne was passed in England in 1709 as a legislative response to the progressive disruptions brought about by the invention of the movable press in the 15th Century. While it provided an answer to the yearnings of the book industry, the objective was also to safeguard the ultimate good of society by protecting the investment of time, energy and resources that went into the production of books. In one form or another, the copyright system has always had to respond to disruptions from within and from outside the creative sector, but that underlying rationale of the copyright system has not shifted much.
The theme of this year’s conference is very germane in the context of the Commission’s mandates as it rightly anticipates the role that copyright should play in the book industry especially at a time when our copyright legislation is going through the much anticipated overhaul, 23 years after the last amendment took place in 1999.
The Book as a Factor of National Development
FOR as long as human beings remain central as agents and beneficiaries of development, there is compelling need to pay attention to the education subsector as a tool to grow a smarter, more informed, healthier and more globally competitive population that would in turn boost national economic growth. Otherwise, society will stagnate or remain brutish. To the extent that books help to enlighten, influence, socialize and empower the individual, equipping him or her to become a positive influence on the environment, there is also a link between the book and the total development of man and society. Therefore, if we accept that education is the bedrock of an enlightened society, then it stands to reason that the book – in whatever form – is a major factor in national development.
Immediate Economic Value
NIGERIA has indeed made tremendous progress of growing its creative sector with limited policy intervention. The book and publishing sector is an aspect of the creative industry with great potentials for economic, cultural and intellectual development of any nation. According to a study on the publishing industry in 19 countries the sector generated revenue of about USD 50.3 billion in 2018 alone. Aside its economic potentials, the sector is one of the most trusted and potent vehicles for promoting knowledge, conveying ideas and expanding the cultural life of a people.
Education remains the bulwark against many debilitating evils that beset a nation and the book, whether physical or electronic, remains one of the bastions of hope for a country that wants to gain ascendancy and global relevance. The book industry is therefore a critical factor in the authentic development of any nation and the dignity of a people.
Another simple way of understanding the notion of books as a factor of development is to examine the role they play in promoting literacy as a catalyst for development. As one author puts it, “a developed society is a book glued society, [while] a developing society is a less book conscious society.” One may then conclude that “an under developed society is a book famished society”! Of course, one must admit that the number of books in circulation does not necessarily translate to enlightenment as there is a growing gap between publishing and readership index in a country like Nigeria. Show me your book-reading index and I will show you how developed you truly are!
The state of publishing in Nigeria today is pathetic but despite the challenges, it has managed to remain relevant and should be supported not only as part of the social responsibility of Government but also as an economic imperative to address our aspirations as a modern nation state. As Mr. Moses F. Ekpo once said in his speech at an earlier edition of this Book Fair in the 90s books are necessary “as the cement that binds us as a nation, defines us as a people and gives us hope as a country”. According to him:
“Besides being the embodiment of the national conscience, authors are also the teachers of society per excellence. Books constitute one of the most important instruments at their disposal. . . . The responsibility for national emancipation will therefore appear, on the one hand to lie with society, which is duty bound to encourage authorship and book production to its utmost capacity, but also on the authors themselves whose wisdom or folly alone will determine whether a nation is led to emancipation or down the slippery road to annihilation.
The importance of the book to society as a factor of development is self-evident and development experts are agreed that the book is:
• an economic asset for a country’s growth;
• a catalyst for mental growth and social integration;
• a dynamic tool for historical documentation and generational bonding;
• a medium of mass communication and enlightenment;
• a sustaining pillar for education, teaching, learning and research;
• a tool for national integration, cultural and social cohesion;
• a vehicle for cross-cultural understanding and diplomacy;
• a springboard for innovation and scientific advancement;
• a pivot of stability; and
• a fountain of pleasure and leisure to the general reader.
The value chain in the book industry involves multiple players whose inputs are critical to sustaining a viable book ecosystem. The publisher adds value to the author’s manuscript by employing editors, designers, layout artists, illustrators and indexers to polish and package the book. The publisher employs the services of the printer to bring the book to life, manufacturers of paper and other consumables supply the materials while shipping companies are engaged to transport the finished product. Distributors, acting as intermediaries between the publisher and retailers, deliver to retail bookstores and online sellers to make the book reach the reading public. Together, the separate but related stages in the process – creation, production, dissemination, and consumption – form an integrated chain of economic activity.
There is consensus that the book sector in Nigeria is, putting it very mildly, in very bad shape. As Nwankwo puts it, the business of publishing has suffered as a result of a fractured and traumatized environment. The challenges are both internal and external, but that goes also for so many other aspects of out daily life. There seem to be daunting challenges at every point in the entire value chain or what Kolawole describes as the fragmented – and I would add twisted – book chain.
Some have even wondered if there is an industry! In my optimistic view, there is a publishing industry. Battered and bruised maybe; but there is an industry.
Discussing the problems on the continent through a Nigerian prism, Professor Udeze once said concerning the prospects and challenges of publishing in Africa:
The publishing industry is bedeviled by a lot of challenges. It is a common phenomenon to hear publishers accuse printers and booksellers of piracy; authors accuse publishers of cheating them by non-payment or underpayment of royalty. Even the end users themselves — readers accuse booksellers of exorbitant pricing while the booksellers in turn point to the publishers as being responsible for the high price of books. Publishers deny it by stating that they give generous discounts to the booksellers whose greed would not allow them sell at official price. Publishers also try to justify their high price on the cost of doing business in the country because of Government’s inability to provide the needed infrastructure and good investment environment and policy. Students of tertiary institutions who constitute the major reading public try to play it smart by engaging in massive and unrestrained photocopying of any published material they borrow from the library while the librarians try to maintain seemingly dignified neutrality.
The other common problems are:
i. Problems of origination or authorship of texts and the dearth of adequately motivated and remunerated authors to produce acceptable manuscripts;
ii. Relatively low number of viable indigenous publishing houses devoted to the production of texts for the three tiers of the school system;
iii. Inadequate manpower base of editorial departments even in the established publishing houses;
iv. Low level of technological know-how and limited equipment in the printing sector of the book chain;
v. Absence of a co-ordinated and unambiguous national book policy backed up by law to protect and promote the book industry;
vi. Variations in public policies that often lead to further destabilization of the uneasy state of the book trade (policy summersaults);
vii. Structural and spatial problems arising from inadequate distribution networks and marketing outlets for the few Nigerian titles that get published annually; and
Viii Declining reading culture; dwindling stock in library collections; absence of public libraries and indeed school libraries.
That is a basket full and although the Commission is committed to helping the ecosystem, some of the problems are outside the copyright space.
Copyright in the Book Ecosystem
COPYRIGHT law remains the most proximate legal framework for the sustainable regulation and promotion of a viable book sector. As in other developed climes, the rise of the book and publishing industry in Nigeria also brought about the need for legal regulation of the sector. Nigeria received the English Copyright Act in 1912 as a colonial statute. It promulgated the first indigenous statute in 1970 and in 1988 followed with the present copyright legislation which has been amended twice in 1992 and 1999.
The Nigerian Copyright Commission in 2012 initiated a copyright reform process to review the Copyright Act in line with emerging trends and to address the impact of new technologies and bring the law in line with global best practices and treaty obligations.
Significant progress has been made in the reform project. A new Copyright Bill was passed by the Senate on 6th April 2022 and only yesterday, 11th May 2022, the same Bill went through its first reading at the House of Representatives where it had been transmitted for concurrence. This is therefore a good time to take stock and critically reassess our copyright ecosystem with a view to redefining duties and responsibilities for the active players which would include the producers, the consumers and the decomposers. We should also proffer strategies for functional interplay between the regulatory, administrative and business components in the industry to attain balance in an otherwise fragile but highly interdependent arrangement. Unless each of the links that make up the major components is strengthened, the entire value chain will eventually give in to the external pressure imposed by the well-known threats to this ecosystem. As the saying goes, any chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
The New Agenda
CONVINCED on the need to effect diversification in Nigeria’s economy and grow the non-oil sector for long-term development, the Nigerian Copyright Commission, in 2012, initiated a comprehensive reform of the country’s copyright system with a view to stimulating its creative sector. Studies had shown that the country although Nigeria had very rich cultural industries that were globally competitive, their meagre contribution to the GDP necessitated a deliberate policy and legislative reform to “strengthen productivity and stimulate additional collateral growth in related cultural industries.” This would also stimulate domestic and foreign investments to boost revenue in the new knowledge-driven world economy.
Our copyright legislation was considered inadequate to curb the rising menace of piracy and other copyright abuses. Other shortfalls identified in the copyright system included poor management of rights; non-compliance with obligations under the relevant treaties; non-deterrent sanctions for copyright infringement; inadequate provisions to deal with new issues arising from the Internet; low level of awareness among key stakeholders. The Commission therefore sought to energise the copyright system “to considerably improve the living prospects for Nigeria’s authors and creators, while facilitating further growth of the country’s core copyright industries and stimulating innovation and investment in new sectors.” This was the basis of the new agenda, starting with a new Copyright Bill which has now in Clause 1 set out the following cardinal objectives:
(a) protect the rights of authors to ensure just rewards and recognition for their intellectual efforts;
(b) provide appropriate limitations and exceptions to guarantee access to creative works;
(c) facilitate Nigeria’s compliance with obligations arising from relevant international copyright treaties and conventions; and
(d) enhance the capacity of the Nigerian Copyright Commission for effective regulation, administration, and enforcement of the provisions of this Act.
In addition to the revision of the copyright legislation, the reform process also contemplates a robust implementation strategy “to strengthen the capacity of various sectors [including the book sector] to penetrate new overseas markets and more effectively leverage Nigeria’s comparative advantages.”
The strategies would have to be revised in view of present realities to allow for more stakeholder inputs. Most of these stakeholders will be participating at this Book Fair and their views on how best to address their subset in the ecosystem is very important if the vision and laudable objectives of the reform are to be realised.
Key Provisions of the New Bill
THE new Copyright Bill, which is the product of years of extensive consultation with local and international stakeholders, industry practitioners, right owner associations, experts in copyright and other interested persons, would be the first major overhaul of the nation’s copyright system in over three decades.
Some of the new issues addressed in the Bill include the right of remuneration for some categories of copyright owners, special exceptions for blind, visually impaired and print disabled persons, provisions concerning technological protection measures, rights management information, an elaborate enforcement mechanism for online infringement, stiffer sanctions for criminal infringements.
The Copyright Levy
WE have also made significant progress in the implementation of the Copyright Levy provisions in the Copyright Act. The Copyright (Levy on Materials) Order is aimed at cushioning the effect of the untracked reproduction of copyright works and provide support for the enforcement mandate of the Commission. The Order imposes levies materials used or capable of being used to infringe copyright in a work. It lists eleven (11) storage media items and sixteen (16) equipment/devices which are subject to between 1% -3% charge on the Cost Freight and Insurance (CFI) for imported items or cost of manufacture, production and assembly for items produced in Nigeria.
The rationale for the levies is to offer creators/rightowners fair compensation for losses of revenue arising from acts of copying carried out in circumstances that cannot be subjected to voluntary licensing by these creators/right owners. It is worthy of note that Nigeria has had the provision for levy imposition in its copyright laws since the promulgation of the present Copyright Act in 1988, but did not make the required Order until 2012 and we are now at the verge of its implementation, having signed the necessary framework agreement with Nigeria Customs Service and obtained the approval in principle, of the relevant government authority.
A substantial proceed from the collection will be paid to right owners through their Collective Management Organizations, while some percentage would be retained by government as part of its revenue and to fund anti-piracy campaigns and promote creativity. The book sector is unarguably one of the primary beneficiaries of this scheme, and would be in a position to cut back losses currently being experienced as a result of piracy and other illicit activities.
Piracy and Proactive Strategies
WE cannot talk about the challenges confronting the book in Nigeria without touching on piracy. It is the hydra-headed monster in the creative industry; the masquerade that must be shamed and put down. I believe it is a hydra-headed problem that calls for an equally multiprong solution. It must be attacked from all sides in a well-coordinated private-public collaboration between the Commission and stakeholders. First we must change our mind-set that this is problem that has no solution. It is not a part of us and it must be stopped.
The Commission has in the last decade deployed more of its resources to enforcement activities and carried out anti-piracy operations in several piracy hotbeds across the country. In report last year, we showed how the Commission had in the last decade or so, arrested over 730 suspected pirates; removed about 9.3 million units of assorted pirated copyright works, comprising books, software, DVDs, CDs, MP3 and contrivances from different piracy outlets across Nigeria with estimated market value of 9.6 Billion.
All these are like scratching a malignant growth on the surface. The Commission requires more funding to carry out the needed deep cleansing.
Unfortunately, there is a penchant by most consumers for pirated works even when they are well aware that such works are pirated. This is a major challenge in the fight against piracy. Unlike pharmaceuticals or other products where the dire consequences of consuming the counterfeit is a deterrent, the lure of cheap pirated products makes the fight against piracy even more daunting. That is why we must change the narrative to make the consuming public aware of the immediate and long-term impact of piracy and other copyright abuses on the society and the future of the industries.
One soft intervention that has been agreed upon with publishers is to curb the use of schools and public places as under the radar distribution points for pirated books. The Commission has issued warning letters to schools that henceforth, proprietors, principals and heads of schools would be held responsible for any pirated books distributed to pupils and students through their schools and such schools will also be sanctioned under the criminal provisions of the Copyright Act. Section 20(2) of the Act makes it an office to sell, distribute or be in possession of infringing copies of copyright works especially when the work is not for private use.
In the last couple of years, the Commission has also been discussing with the NPA on the possibility of adopting proactive anti-piracy measures for the book industry. This would include the introduction of antipiracy stamps and mobile verification systems. This discussion is yet to mature despite the urgency of such interventions to address the peculiar needs of the book industry. Booksellers and buyers have often complained about the increasing difficulty faced in identifying pirated materials. It is our belief that the implementation of a proactive anti-piracy system will go a long way in checking these infractions, help the consuming public to identify genuine works and also assist the Commission in its enforcement drive.
Changing Business Models
FOR the larger book ecosystem to thrive, it is important that everyone in the value chain contributes constructively to the sustainable growth of their respective sectors in the value chain starting from authors to publishers, editorial and production teams, printers, booksellers, librarians, digital platform providers, policy formulators, Government agencies, etc.
In the face of emerging technologies, we emphasize the need for right owners to explore new business models that can ensure easy access to legitimate creative content, and provide an efficient mechanism of licensing use of works. The Internet has given book publishers and other content providers an entirely new way to provide content. An independent author with minimal resources can make his or her work accessible to a global audience. With the popularity of e-books and growth of the technology to support them, electronic publishing has become a lot easier. Yet with that ease and a wide open marketplace, it becomes even more important for publishers take the necessary steps to protect their publications distributed on such platforms, by adopting suitable digital rights management solutions. DRM protection can limit what a reader can do with an e-book, such as printing or copying of text into another document, and even restrict the reader from unauthorized sharing of the file.
There is indeed no reason to be apprehensive of the digital platforms, especially considering that the new copyright bill has provided a framework for effective online enforcement of rights. More importantly, the online platform offers global market for products. The domestic market remains viable given the level of Internet and telephone penetration in Nigeria.
Despite its continental dominance in publishing, regrettably Nigeria is still yet to adopt modern trends in publishing. Most publications are still in the traditional book formats which limits their competition in the global market.
A case for Accessible Formats
ACCORDING to a 2018 World Health Organization estimate, approximately 253 million people are blind or visually impaired world-wide. More than 90% of these live in developing countries, including Nigeria. It is estimated that less than 10% of all published materials are available in formats that the blind or visually impaired can access. Limited availability of accessible books for the blind and visually impaired persons is a real barrier to their education and participation in other sociocultural life thereby impacting on their capacity to lead independent and productive lives.
The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled was concluded in June 2013 and ratified by Nigeria in October 2017. Fortunately, the new Copyright Bill 2022 contains elaborate provisions in line with that treaty. To benefit print disable persons, publishers must make adjustments to make books available in accessible formats.
The Marrakesh Treaty has a clear humanitarian and social development dimension and its main goal is to create a set of mandatory limitations and exceptions for the benefit of the blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disabled persons. It is not oblivious of the need to ensure safeguards against abuses in the chain of supply. These safeguards include clear rules on the role authorized entities and the beneficiaries. The treaty does not in any way prohibit commercial distribution of accessible book formats by publishers along with regular market copies, as these would ordinarily ease challenge faced by people with visual impairment. With the large presence of persons with visual disability in Nigeria, there is no gainsaying the existence of a viable market for accessible format copies of books, and indeed books in other formats that are not strictly in prints. Publishers should therefore rethink their strategies to be more inclusive and in line with global trends.
FOR Nigeria to experience a sustainable growth in the book industry it must continue to have a balanced book ecosystem where the producers, consumers, decomposers and all the other players, including the regulatory authorities must constructively separately and collectively address the destroyers that have been decimating the industry. The copyright system is one of the pillars on which the book industry rests hence any weakness in the system does not only threaten the survival of the industry but would invariably affect the other dependent industries in the book ecosystem.
The copyright system must be made to be self-regulatory. In as much as government has a role to play in the area of policy formulation and enforcement of copyright, right owners being the primary beneficiaries of the system should play a more active role either as individuals or through their respective associations in bringing about the needed stability and sustainability of the ecosystem.
The Book industry in Nigeria is particularly fortunate to have cognizable industry structures that have the capacity to galvanize itself into action that will impact the progress of publishing and book trade in Nigeria. The Nigerian Publishers Association, the Nigerian Booksellers Association, the Chartered Institute of Professional Printers of Nigeria, Association of Nigerian Authors, etc., all have significant role to play in the emerging new order. A broad coalition that can articulate modalities of operations for the various sections of the industry towards creating an orderly system of production and distribution of books is necessary. Standard contracts that will create a balance between authors and publishers is very important, just as good faith dealing and transparency is paramount to maintaining healthy relationships between primary content providers and publishers, between publishers and printers and between publishers and booksellers.
Finally, I recall that a top-level meeting of stakeholders in the book industry was held in 2020 at the instance of the Late Otunba Lawal Solarin and some key items were itemized which, if addressed would help counter the threats to the ecosystem and restore sanity to achieve the needed balance. Some of the areas touched upon are:
• The need to promote reading using various strategies that would require publishers, librarians, schools and relevant MDAs to engage in the national campaign strategy collectively and individually.
• Introduction of appropriate regulations in the publishing industry to address distribution channels in line with global best business practice including the disruptive practice of direct sale of books through the school system.
• Enforcement of book standards in terms of content and production.
• Establishment of community and school libraries to cater for the needs of students.
• Promotion of substantial local printing of books and the resuscitation of the paper mills.
• Restoration of respect for the book chain in line with global best practices with well-defined roles for publishers, printers, booksellers, schools.
The think tank also outlined responsibilities for the Nigerian Copyright Commission which is expected to:
• Support the development of a National Book Policy for Nigeria.
• Promote respect for copyright and a more strategic use of the copyright system to grow the book industry.
• Regulate the production, stocking and warehousing and sale of books.
• Work with critical stakeholders to introduce appropriate anti-piracy devices.
• Increase its collaboration with other enforcement agencies to sustain its antipiracy campaign.
• Activate all relevant provisions of the Copyright Act that would ensure balance in the use of the copyright system, including provisions dealing with compulsory licensing, exceptions, production of books for the blind and visually impaired.
We have begun to set the agenda for the changes that would guarantee the sustainable growth of the book ecosystem. It is time for us to identify the champions in the industry who will drive the new agenda. The Commission and other agencies of Government responsible for the sustainable growth of this ecosystem must make out time for regular interaction with the key players and use the feedbacks in formulating policies.
I hope we will all find time in our respective constituencies to also examine the other Cankerworms that have bedeviled this industry.
As an agency committed to optimal service delivery, the Nigerian Copyright Commission will work with all stakeholders to ensure that Nigeria gets a modern copyright legislation that adequately protects rights, provides for appropriate exceptions and facilitates the effective administration, regulation and enforcement of copyright in a digital environment. We are also determined to rebuild a wholesome, functional and dependable copyright system that would restore a book ecosystem that stimulates growth. It behooves other players to complement this commitment by becoming more proactive to engage with and leverage the new opportunities to make it flourish in the global digital economy.
On behalf of all stakeholders in the creative sector, including the book industry, I commend the National Assembly for giving prompt attention to the Copyright Bill and complementing the administration’s reform agenda to reposition the sector for the much-needed upward swing. I am certain that discussants and participants at this conference will renew their commitment to the evolving agenda for sustainable growth in the book ecosystem.
I wish you all a fruitful and successful conference.
* Asein is the Director-General, Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC)