Nollywood stars demand N12billion compensation from DSTV

Nollywood stars ( Photo  )
Nollywood stars ( Photo )
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•Actors have no right to make such demand Ex-AMP President

THE days ahead in the Nigeria movie industry may witness what looks like a battle of wits as Nollywood stars demand a N12 billion compensation from DSTV, a South Africa based owners of the African Magic Channel for showing their films without adequately paying for the copyright. The actors may however not win total industry support as some producers stand in opposition to their demand.

A top-rated Nollywood star, Emeka Ike, who is at the vanguard of the agitation for the enthronement of adequate compensatory culture in the industry, is saddened by the large scale exploitation of artistes' intellectual property by the way DSTV is showing their films with such impunity that undermines the intended income generation right and concern of the artistes.

Speaking in an interview with Weekend National Daily, Ike went rhetorical by saying that “Nollywood has grown, but are we making all that we are supposed to be making? The answer is an emphatic no. For an industry that is considered the third largest in the world and one that is generating figures in the region of over ten billion annually, it is sad that most of the practitioners still live below the poverty line. It is only a few of us at the top that are being rewarded well below what we are worth. This is an industry where if you make only one movie a year you can go home and rest without bothering where the next meal will come from. The major reason behind this statement is that Nigeria has the population to support the work that we do and we have not only affected Nigeria but the world as a whole. The second reason is that movie making is a highly intellectual, physically demanding and an artistic expression which really is not quantifiable. If I can ask that question, what kind of price tag can you put on an artistic work?”

According to Ike, whose filmography gives a credit of having acted in over 110 movies between 1984 and now, DSTV is singled out as an enemy in the emerging scenario simply “because they are the highest exploiters of Nigerian talent. We have heard the talk that American movies are bought with something in the region of $40,000 for Viewing Rights only by DSTV. Compare that with the meagre sum of N80, 000 to N120,000 for every single right that Nigerian producers are selling our films to DSTV. Now they say that they are buying the movies at such ridiculous rates because of the 'hunger factor' which simply translates to the feeling that Nigerians are poor, hungry people who you can be exploited at will because they need to eat. I personally feel insulted by such feelings and statements. I feel that we have done marvelously well as an industry that nobody gave a chance of survival and we need to be seen as having done well. Take a situation where I have to make six movies to earn what Will Smith will earn in one movie. What is the difference between what he does and what I do? At the end, after we have finished all that hard work, somebody gathers all those movies and says he is doing Emeka Ike's season on DSTV. Now, no dime is paid into my pocket for celebrating me. How then are you helping me and my industry” he asked?

However, while the Nollywood actors may be spoiling for a showdown with DSTV and other satellite television service providers, a rather contrary view is being held by some movie producers as they claimed that the artistes do not have any right to approach users of the work directly.

According to Mr. Madu Chikwendu, a former President of the Association of Movie Producers of Nigeria (AMP) and currently the Secretary of the Pan African Federation of Film Makers (FEPACI), there are a number of rights enshrined in a cinematic work which does not really belong to one person.
“I do not know if the actors have the right to demand direct compensation because the user of the work does not negotiate directly with them. The actors are just like employees, technically speaking. They are employed by the producers,” he said.

Taking a look at the pitiable state of an average Nollywood producer who carries an enormous risk of producing a film for which he pays the actors heavily without a guarantee of having a good return on investment, Chikwendu was of the opinion that the African Magic Channel opened up an avenue for the producers to recoup the money they have invested.

He revealed that calls were made to the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) to meet with the relevant agencies in the industry so that a memorandum of understanding could be agreed upon on percentage of royalties to be paid to the actors as well as the costumiers, sound track developers, cinematographers and so on, but that none of the calls has been heeded to.

Reacting specifically to the N12billion compensation claim, Chikwendu advised the aggrieved actors to exercise reason and be very cautious as he could not ascertain how they arrived at such a figure.

“Irrespective of the fact that there is no limit to intellectual property, the actors should know that if they go to a court of law, the judge will be curious to know how they arrived at that figure. Are they bench-marking it on the revenue African Magic has earned within the period that it has operated or was it based on the number of films acquired by African Magic Channel over the years? African Magic buys Nollywood films for $700 each and since they started, can the actors give an account of the total number of movies aired so far,” he asked?

Another prolific film maker, Mrs. Amaka Igwe, famed for the soap series, Checkmate, was also of the opinion that the actors have no right to make such a demand on DSTV as, according to her, the right of the film belongs to the producer who the actors have a contract with.

This brewing war may have been hinged on certain provisions of Article 2 of the Berne Convention on intellectual property rights.

The Berne Convention, which provides for the protection of literary and artistic works, took place in Berne, Switzerland on September 9, 1886. Its resolutions, which came into force on May 12, 1887 provide intellectual property rights for performers, producers of sound recordings (phonograms) and broadcasting organisations. Part of the provisions of the revised document brings into focus the situation of cinematographic works which was covered in Article 2 of the Convention.

It holds that "literary and artistic works" shall include every production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain, whatever may be the mode or form of its expression, such as books, pamphlets and other writings; lectures, addresses, sermons and other works of the same nature; dramatic or dramatico-musical works; choreographic works and entertainments in dumb show.

Musical compositions with or without words; cinematographic works to which are assimilated works expressed by a process analogous to cinematography; works of drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture, engraving and lithography; photographic works to which are assimilated works expressed by a process analogous to photography; works of applied art; illustrations, maps, plans, sketches and three-dimensional works relative to geography, topography, architecture or science all form part of the provisions of the Convention.
Incidentally, both Nigeria and South Africa are signatories to the ratification of the Berne Convention. Nigeria signed up on February 14, 1962 while South Africa had signed decades earlier on October 3, 1928.

To the aggrieved players in Nollywood, it looks like both Nigeria and South-Africa are not willing to respect and abide by the letters of the Convention and on issues of copyright infringement.

On whether African Magic is that popular across the African continent to warrant the debate, National Daily spoke with Merrylin, Namibian actress of the Big Brother Africa fame, who was in Nigeria to make her first two Nollywood films.She tries to capture both the attitude of stakeholders in Nigeria and the remote cause of the impasse, when she, “here in Nigeria, you guys don't understand how huge this thing is. I am absolutely thrilled that I am here working in Nollywood. For me, that is the best thing that has happened to me. It is an honour to be working on the same set with people like Ini Edo and Uche Jombo. It is not something I would have dreamt about a few years back. Back home, we can sit back all day in front of our television sets and watch Nigerian Films all day. It is something that is working for Africa. Of course there would always be the American films but Nigerian films tell our stories and that is what most Africans want to watch.”

On what the government is doing to resolve the matter, Emeka Ike retorted, “What do you expect them to do when the man who is heading the Film and Video Censors Board once worked for DSTV? It is a sad case. When the industry started, the government was not there. They refused to recognize us until the rest of the world did. We do not need them. This is a fight we are willing to fight on our own terms.

Another major Nollywood star, Uche Jombo spoke to National Daily on the matter. “I stopped attending government initiatives on Nollywood some time ago because all we do is go and speak a lot of grammar and in the end, nothing is achieved. You cannot trust people who are not doing anything to help you; instead they are promulgating laws that are plunging us into more difficulties and poverty.”

Another actor, Maryam Apollo was even more amused by the suggestion that Nigerian government can be of help. “Don't make me laugh. Just don't bring the government into this matter. Whatever you want to do in Nigeria and get ahead, leave the government out. Look at the Power sector, look at education, health in every area, the government has failed. The only area they have succeeded is the enhancement and enthronement of corruption. The issue is that this is our thing. We the practitioners need to band together and fight our fight,” she said.

But as the artistes are still preparing for this mother of all battles to save Nollywood, other cable stations like MOVISTAR channel 333 on the SKY network have also started running Nigerian Movies, just like DSTV.

As at press time, efforts to get the official response of the Nigeria Copy Right Commission proved futile. A staff of the commission, who pleaded that he should not be quoted since he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the commission, however told National Daily at the weekend that “any individual, whether a writer, a producer or an actor, who feels that his intellectual property is being stolen has a right to cry out and demand compensation. But until such claims are proved to be right, it will remain mere agitation. Nigeria Copyright Commission is out to ensure that intellectual property of any form is adequately protected and rewarded. We would not support deliberate act of exploitation in the Nollywood or in any other sector under our supervision.”