In the year of 1992, Kenneth Nnebue created Living in Bondage with a budget of $12,000, a straight-to-DVD film that has sold over a million copies to date. This was the start of the growth of Nollywood, a term coined by a New York Times journalist, Norimitsu Onishi.
The global growth of Nollywood did not stop there, in 2009 beating out Hollywood in sheer volume of films produced, coming in second to India’s Bollywood. And in 2014 Netflix paired up with Nollywood actor and award-winning producer, Kunle Afolayan, to distribute his film October 1. Netflix also made its first ‘big screen’ debut, purchasing the rights to Nigerian Novel Beasts of No Nation, released in 2015 to positive reviews from critics and the general public; also receiving a metascore of 79 and featured in the 2016 EE British Academy Film Awards.
But can this global growth be sustained with pirates bleeding the pockets of the industry dry? According to Professor of Political Economy and Management Expert, Pat Utomi, the Nigerian film industry, loses an estimated US$2 billion to piracy every year.
Oludayo Tade also stated, that “in 2015 Kunle Afolayan was notified that his classic film October 1 had been pirated and was already being sold on Lagos streets [for] $3 per copy. The film had yet to recoup the $2 million invested in its production.”
Oludayo Tade also conducted a study: The who and how of pirates threatening the Nollywood film industry. The research from this study describes the two types of pirates involved in the scam, the two categories generally working together to make profit.
The first type of pirate Tade talks about are the “registered retailers”. These pirates display original copies of films for sale, but conceal pirated copies in their stores. Claiming to be retailers of original Nollywood films, they use original copies purchased legally to mass-produce pirated copies to maximise their profit margins.
The second type of pirate Tade talks about are the “associates”. They are officially appointed by copyright owners to distribute their films, but some, owing to their strategic position in the distribution chain make shady business deals with ‘dubbing’ companies. The ‘dubbing’ companies then mass-produce pirated copies and flood the market with them.
Tade then goes on to explain how the two types of pirates work together; the associate often having access to the original copies of new films scheduled for release, then sell these original copies to the “registered retailers”, as well as ‘dubbing’ companies. The pirates can then ensure early pirating production of original copies, with pirated copies often flooding the market on the same day of a movies intended legal release.
Tade alleges that marketing bosses are in on the piracy scam too. Marketing bosses are often major financers of Nollywood films, and the money and “underground structure they maintain make them indispensable to copyright owners and in the marketing of their films”. This means the marketing bosses can ensure they gain total control of the market by working with the pirates to illegally distribute the films they finance, securing income from both illegal and legal avenues.
Whilst Nigeria’s film regulatory agency posts existing laws, enforcement actions and arrest details for film copy right infringement online, this is simply not enough. With corrupt enforcement agents taking bribes, the pirates are “confident” they can avoid trouble with the law, according to Tade’s research.
But with high profile Nollywood stars, like Kunle Afolayan campaigning for stronger copyright laws, and subscription-based “video-on-demand” businesses the issue of piracy is being eradicated one step at a time. Tade also believes that “if there were a real threat of arrest and prosecution these… networks would be more likely to break down”.
So, will Nollywood continue to grow globally despite the problems of piracy? Probably – but at a great cost, one that’s increasing year by year.