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Lai Mohammed Minister unveils FG plans to tackle piracy and set up National Endowment for Arts

Mohammed said the government could not properly diversify the economy if it did not make any effort to end piracy or, at worst, reduce it to the barest minimum.

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The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on Sunday said his ministry would work with the relevant agencies of government to tackle piracy facing the entertainment industry.

The minister who said this while meeting with some stakeholders in the movie industry in Lagos, also promised that the Federal Government would establish a national endowment fund for the art sector.

The event attended by popular Nollywood actors and actresses was held at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Media Centre, Iganmu-Lagos.

``There is no doubt that piracy has become a monstrous disincentive not only to you, film-makers, but also to the entire arts and the entertainment industry.

``With what I have read and seen, it appears that piracy has almost killed the industry,’’ he said,

The minister said unauthorised intellectual properties such as films, books and paintings were blatantly hawked in the open.

He said there had been instances whereby some films and books were even sold a few days before the official release of the original work.

``I am told that a recent study revealed that there are eight pirated works to two original works out of every ten works you find in the market.

``This is totally unacceptable! This Administration is determined to fight this scourge, and the good news is that we have the backing of Mr. President!

``In fact, one of Mr. President’s early charges to security agencies was for them to tackle piracy so that practitioners can be able to recoup their investments; and that way contribute to the socio-economic development of the nation.’’

Mohammed said the government could not properly diversify the economy if it did not make any effort to end piracy or, at worst, reduce it to the barest minimum.

``We shall work with the necessary agencies of government to activate that Presidential directive.’’

The minister said his ministry would explore the possibility of moving the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) back to his ministry where it rightly belongs.

`` In this regard, I am aware that one of your complaints is that the NCC, which ought to be under the supervision of the Ministry of Information and Culture which directly deals with matters that concern you, is now under the Ministry of Justice.

`` We will address this complaint and explore the possibility of moving the NCC back to where it rightly belongs.’’

According to him, this is important because the decision to move the NCC to the Ministry of Justice has caused a major disconnect between the industry and the other sector of the arts.

``It has also not allowed us to take advantage of the many treaties that clearly acknowledge the place of audiovisual performers in the scheme of things.

``For instance, I am aware that in spite of the position we occupy as the giant of Africa in the area of entertainment, Nigeria is yet to ratify the World Intellectual Property (WIPO) Performances and Phonograms Treaty, which it signed in 1996.

``And the more recent Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances, which it also signed in 2012.,’’

The minister said the ratification and domestication of both treaties would provide the needed upgrade in the protection of performers in the music and film industries, and would help our legislative reform processes.

`` We will see how to quickly correct that. But while we are at that, we shall work with the relevant agencies and Ministry to see how we can tackle piracy.’’

He suggested that piracy should be declared an economic crime and had a regulatory direction, domesticate most of the international conventions on piracy.

The minister stressed the need to review and strengthen existing copyright laws as well as make the punishment for copyright more stringent so as to discourage pirates.

``Perhaps a longer jail term with no option of fine and a speedy trial of suspects as we have in other countries will help in this fight.

``I think also that the entertainment industry is ripe enough to have a dedicated National Task Force on Piracy.

``We shall propose that and see how it all works out for the good of our cultural industries and the nation.

``We truly need a proactive enforcement of the copyright law so as to make the creative industry lucrative.’’

The minister also said the Federal Government would set up a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)

`` We will fast track the setting up of a NEA than set up separate funds for the different sectors.

``Like the American model, we should at this time - when we are trying to streamline spending - think of having a properly established NEA that will service all genres of the arts.’’

Mohammed said the establishment of NEA would facilitate the introduction of tax rebates as incentives for sponsors of the arts.

He said it would give prime place to the arts and cultural sector in budgeting processes, since it had capacity to create massive job opportunities.

The minister said as part of its massive social intervention policy, the administration had made available the sum of N500 billion to be accessed by creative people such as movie actors, artisans, market women, unemployed youths and others.

Responding, Mr Mahmood Ali-Balogun, a Nollywood filmmaker, and Managing Director of Brickwall Communications Ltd., said that they were impressed because the minister was well informed on how to move the industry forward.

Ali-Balogun urged the minister to create a special task force to deal with piracy.

``We need a task force like the Special Anti-Robbery Squad that will only be responsible for arresting people that are involved in piracy,

``It is only when we have this task force that we can know that piracy will come to an end,” he said.

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