Nigerian universities of piracy

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Some Nigerian universities aid and abet copyright infringement in the form of photocopying of books and other intellectual materials, CHUX OHAI writes, with additional report from Success Nwogu

Driving through the University of Lagos on Monday, our correspondent was struck by the peaceful calm around the halls of residence, faculty buildings and other key points within the Akoka campus.

A few weeks ago, the atmosphere was not this subdued as the students of the institution struggled through the second semester examinations. While the exams lasted, the pavements constantly overflowed with crowds of people moving from their hostels or lecture rooms and the university library to examination halls.

Yet, most students often found their way to the pool of photocopiers situated behind the Faculty of Arts Complex to obtain photocopies of reading materials, including recommended books that were vital to their studies.

The photocopiers are sheltered in a long makeshift shed that is divided into about six compartments. Each compartment contains an assortment of copiers that are also used for scanning of documents, printing, binding or more and it is run by an operator.

Living off the sweat of copyright owners

One of the operators at the pool, whose name is Kunle, tells our correspondent that business usually peaks every first semester and just before the commencement of examinations. “These are the periods when patronage is very high,” he says.

Although Kunle declines to say how much he earns from the business, he admits that business is good. “The only problem we are having here is irregular power supply,” he says, quickly adding that operators of the copiers are not allowed to use their own generators.

Occasionally the conversation is interrupted by the arrival of a customer, always a student, and Kunle hurries off to attend to him. Later, he returns and says that he has been in the business for about three years.

Of course, unknown to them, the likes of Kunle virtually live off the labour of authors and other copyright owners.

A check in other universities, including the University of Ibadan, University of Benin, University of Port Harcourt, Ahmadu Bello University, polytechnics and colleges of education, shows that photocopying is a massive business there too.

A necessary evil on campus

Not a few concerned citizens agree that photocopying is not only rampant in the universities and other tertiary institutions of learning in the country but is also fast evolving into an unwanted sub-culture.

Indeed, a former chairman of the Nigeria Book Fair Trust and a leading publisher of children’s books, Otunba Yinka Lawal-Solarin, affirms that the practice has been going on in the campuses for many years.

But, quite a number of students who spoke with our correspondent admit that they have been making copies of text books. “Many of us cannot afford to buy books at the existing costs. The only alternative is to make photocopies of excerpts from a book or the whole book. We also make photocopies of handouts,” says a female student of the Department of Geography in UNILag.

Also, a postgraduate student of the same institution, Muyi Kolawole, does not see anything wrong in making photocopies of recommended text books or other materials by fellow students who are too indigent to afford the books.

Noting that outside Nigeria, the authorities of some institutions go out their way to provide photocopying materials to boost academic activity, he says, “I think that the practice is a necessary evil that must be endured because of the economic handicap suffered by many students of Nigerian universities.”

One of the stalls at the photocopy centre in UNILAG

The scenario is not different at the University of Ilorin where there are more than 10 photocopying centres servicing the main campus of the institution. A student of the university says, on condition of anonymity, most fellow students are forced to make photo copies of textbooks, handouts and other academic materials because of the high cost of books.

Also, a senior lecturer at the university, Dr. Sa’ad Omoiya, says it is not unlawful for students to photocopy textbooks. According to him, the practice does not contravene the copyright law.

Noting that it is illegal to reproduce an author’s work and sell it at a cheaper price than the original work, Omoiya says, “The advancement in scholarship whereby students can source for materials from the net and other sources has made those who are privileged to source the materials to give out to others to photocopy. I think they are doing it on their own. They are not doing it on the instruction of lecturers or school authorities. Photocopying is just reflecting the economic situation of Nigeria. Photocopying cannot be illegal because there is no law barring it.”

Legal implications

Commenting on the legal implications of photocopying of the intellectual property of an author, a lawyer and legal officer of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Ahmed Maiwada, says it qualifies as an unlawful infringement on his copyright.

He says, “In intellectual property law, specifically Nigerian copyright law, it is not everything in print that is copyrightable. Books that contain original ideas –the originality must be ascertained before an author begins to assume the position of a copyright owner.

“Let us assume we are talking about books that are actually copyright-protected and that they are the ones being photocopied by the students of a tertiary institution. Whenever such a thing happens, no doubt, we call it ‘piracy’ in non-legal parlance. In legal parlance, we call it a breach or infringement of copyright.”

Maiwada notes that the author, whose works are subjected to photocopying, has a right to confront the infringers or get them to know that they are infringing on his copyright. Also the author has the right to sue the offender for damages.

On the other hand, he adds, the author can consent to the act or decide not to do so. He can also ask the perceived offender to pay for infringing his copyright. But the infringer’s next course of action will determine what the copyright owner may decide to take, whether to seek redress in court, if he is not satisfied with the response of the copyright offender, or not.

“In an academic environment, the author can take action against the lecturer who does the photocopy of his work. He can take action against the institution, if he is able to prove that its officials are aware of the infringement on his copyright.

“Much as the students are benefitting from it, photocopying is actually wrong. It is wrong for them to photocopy books written by other people without seeking their consent. It is sheer robbery and must be discontinued,” Maiwada says.

We’ll hold the authorities responsible – writers

Writer and finalist in the 2014 Nigeria Prize for Literature, Friday Abba, notes that the act of photocopying books is fast becoming part of the culture in Nigeria’s institutions of higher learning and it should be stopped.

Beyond the fact that a writer deserves some financial returns from the sale of his work, he argues, allowing the practice to continue, especially in the universities and other higher institutions, amounts to condoning criminality, which is not good for the society.

Abba warns that if the relevant authorities continue to do nothing to check the theft of intellectual property in the country, they are invariably saying that stealing in any form is not criminal.

“If I find out that my book is being photocopied by students for their classroom work, the first thing I will do is take the matter up with the authority of their institution. I should be informed that my work is in use, in the first place. If some students cannot afford the book, I may be at liberty to let them have it for free or at a discount. But I don’t think that I would allow them to continue to photocopy that work because it is criminal to do so. Personally I would not take it lightly with them.

“Also, I can make an arrangement for the students to have the book. I have done it before. But I will not tolerate them photocopying it.”

To discourage photocopying of recommended texts among students of tertiary institutions, the writer wants government to find a way to make books cheaper and affordable. “It is very wrong to allow crime to fester in the campuses because students have no money to buy the books,” he says.

For publishers, it’s different strokes

Publisher and co-founder of Parresias, Richard Ali, acknowledges that photocopying is piracy in itself and the reason why offenders cannot be easily prosecuted is because the law or the Nigerian legal system makes it difficult to do so.

“If I discover that a book published by my company is being photocopied without permission, the first thing would be to get in touch with the management of the institution, especially the department where the students belong, and let them know what is happening. But before that one has to make sure that the books are available in the market. Most of the time students will tell you they cannot find the book and that is why they resort to making photocopies of it.

“The next thing you should do after contacting the management is to make the book available, possibly through a lecturer.”

Aware that a few students may not be able to afford the book, even if provided at a much cheaper price than is obtainable in the open market, Ali says that very little or nothing can be done to check illegal photocopying as long as it is not rampant in the institution.

“To be quite honest, there is very little you can do about the matter. Are you going to sue the students? If you are going to sue the individual students, how much are you going to pay a lawyer before the judgment comes and what are the chances of getting any judgment from the same court? In actual fact, unless you find a way of holding the school authority responsible for the infringement on your copyright, there is very little that can be done,” he says.

Another publisher, Abayomi Awelewa, views the practice of photocopying, especially as it involves recommended texts, among students in tertiary institutions in a different way. Just as expressed by Ali, he notes that the immediate solution and only way to discourage such practice, as a publisher, is to get the book in question on the reading list in the university and to arrange with the authority for copies to be supplied directly through designated collection points, such as the bookshop and the library. The purpose is to enable the students gain access to the books easily.

Asked if he will take action in the event of discovering that a book published by his company, New Africa Book Publishers, has been photocopied for academic use, he says, “If it is not something that can affect our economy in a very bad way, we may overlook it. I know that people do this kind of thing in an academic environment just because they cannot afford to buy books. But it does not rule out the fact that it is wrong. I would advise students to borrow books from their colleagues who have bought them instead of resorting to making photocopies, which is an infringement on copyright.”


However, investigation shows that some structural issues in Nigerian universities and other institutions of higher learning may have created a loophole for photocopying to thrive.

When a book is recommended for study, for example, the university library and the bookshop are expected to get the book so that students can buy it. And in the event that all the students are required to read the book, the university press should be able to create a students’ edition of it.

It is obvious that the libraries and bookshops in the institutions, where the majority of the students depend largely on photocopying to get by in their academic work, are not functioning as they should and it is within this gap that this type of piracy exists.

Apart from this, our correspondent found out that there is also a legal twist to the issue. For example, in the process of establishing that his copyright has been violated, an author will have to prove that the student, who made photocopies of your book for his own use, has benefitted from the same photocopies. The basic challenge, it seems, is how he could possibly prove this.

How universities have frustrated our efforts – REPRONIG

The Reproduction Rights Society of Nigeria, sole collecting society for reprographic rights in the country, claims that university authorities themselves are frustrating its efforts at controlling photocopying in tertiary institutions.

Chairman of the society, Prof. Olu Obafemi, says “We are still trying to get the universities to obtain licences so that there can be connections that will spread to writers and other copyrights owners. We are also working on how to control photocopying in tertiary institutions. But many universities are not cooperating with us. They are not willing to get licensed. They don’t feel legally bound to do so. Right now, what we are trying to solve this problem by pursuing two options.”

One of the options, he continues, is to get the Corporate Affairs Commission to approach the Nigerian Universities Commission and get them to make it mandatory for universities to take licences so that REPRONIG can exercise some control on photocopying.

Obafemi takes one look at photocopying in the campuses and declares: “I think it is becoming a real crime. Some people copy a whole book and they are not checked.”

The REPRONIG boss warns that if nothing is done to check this trend it may have far-reaching consequences on the distribution of books in the country. In the end, he adds, photocopying will become cheaper than the book itself and many Nigerians, particularly students of tertiary institutions, would prefer not to buy books.

Obafemi also notes that if such a situation persists, authors will not be paid the royalties due them. “So there is a real need to massively intervene in this direction,” he says.

Although REPRONIG is empowered under the Licensing Rights of the CAC Act to enforce the licensing of photocopying materials in the universities, investigation shows that only a few of the authorities of tertiary institutions, including Covenant University, are buying into the idea of licensing.




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