Subscribers to my blog may be familiar with my November 2019 post, If I Am Plagiarist, which highlighted significant similarities between my short story, 10 Commandments of Nigerian Politics and the film, If I am President.
I first published The Ten Commandments under a Creative Commons licence, which is more laidback than regular copyright.
Under that specific licence, my story could have been reposted and republished in full, for free, without reference to me, so long as I was acknowledged as the author and it was not ‘remixed’. The use of my work in the film, If I Am President, of course exceeded the Creative Commons licence in question, which meant that my explicit permission was required. It was not obtained, so I wrote my blog post of November, at the end of which I suggested that court proceedings were imminent.
Then came interventions from my friends Chinyere Obi-obasi and Odoh Diego Okonyedo. Of course, one of our banes is how sentiment often trumps principle so that – failing to learn lessons – we are doomed to repeat our errors. This is not the case here. From this teachable moment, our nascent creative industry can learn from the settled Nwokolo v. High Definition Film Studio case that:
Five paragraphs that could have been available for free, by prior request, licence and credits were – for want of due process – licensed after needless strife, for a seven figure compensation.
I have gifted half of the compensation to an intellectual property public awareness project for our creative industries constituency, which will be announced by the filmmakers in the next few weeks. So if you are a Creative Commons virgin, or would like better clarity as to when to seek consent to borrow, and how much material you can fairly borrow without consent, watch this space.
In addition to a formal apology duly accepted, the film and its three language translations have been amended to give appropriate credits. I am therefore pleased to announce that all matters contingent to my complaint in my blog post of 1st November have been amicably resolved. I thank you all for your good wishes and support for film and story and I have no doubt that generous gourds of palm wine are making their way to Chinyere and Odoh.
What has encouraged me to resolve this matter amicably, as is clear from my review of the film in my November blog, is that If I Am President is a campaign movie and the producer/ director/ scriptwriter, Bright Wonder Obasi, is – in this project – a fellow soldier in our battle for national good governance. That does not come with a free pass for the breach of intellectual property rights, of course, but it does mean that when I apply my hundred-year-test of what is important in the long run, I choose to sublimate my pound of flesh to the national interest, and refrain from decimating my own army in friendly fire.
It will be interesting to find out if I will be as generous to future conversions of my work, and I invite interested researchers to experiment. A generous sampling of my work can be found in the online wild…
As it happens, my invitation has already been taken up, to judge from this online shopfront of the Amazon subsidiary, Abebooks.com. The offending page will probably not stay up long after they receive my legal take-down notice next Monday, so here’s a snippet of it, for posterity.
From this webpage, anyone would conclude that my 2003 novel, Diaries of a Dead African is published by a certain ‘Fourth Dimension Pub Co’ who have authorised Paperbackshop-US to print and sell copies to buyers through www.abebooks.com.
This is news to me. As author of the book, I have neither contact nor contract with Fourth Dimensions Pub Co and any of the Paperbackshop companies. It gets worse.
Four of my books in total (Diaries of A Dead African, The Ghost of Sani Abacha, How to Spell Naija Vol 1, and One More Tale for the Road) are available to the internet public on these terms: ‘published by a company I have never met, and printed and supplied on demand by a UK retailer I had never heard of, to consumers who will never be reported to me in a royalty statement.
At this stage, one must assume that the name ‘Fourth Dimension Pub Co’ has been plucked from the ether. Any other explanation would be a tragic low for the venerable publisher of Achebe. We shall see. As for the enterprising UK-based bookseller, Paperbackshop, it is apparently run by directors, Angela Gillett and John Phillip Woolley, and uses aliases like Books2anywhere. It operates shopfronts on www.abebooks.com and other platforms like www.alibris.com, where pirated, printed copies of my books are offered on identical Print-on-Demand terms to the general public.
It may be difficult for online marketplaces to tell when they are offering stolen goods for sale on their platforms. This is not the case with a published book, which bears the original author’s name on the front cover, the original publisher’s name on the back, and a contact address to either or both on the copyright page. Ignorance becomes an even more ludicrous defence because every authentic ISBN contains a publisher-identifier code – and all the ISBNs quoted in relation to my books are authentic. To cap it all, the pirate trader has accidental webpages online on which they display details of my genuine publisher:
Of course the copies stocked by Paperbackshop and their other aliases and distributors are most likely to be pirated copies produced by their Print-on-Demand operation.
It is difficult to top the egregious effrontery of this piracy venture, but I will try: a few years ago, I was a guest at an international book fair in an African city outside Nigeria (which in the interests of my imminent litigation will remain unnamed). During a gap in my programming, I visited a local bookshop, as authors do. I talked with the shop owner, a pleasant gentleman who was overseeing the decanting into his storerooms of a container of books just arrived from the UK. I was suitably surprised to find some of my titles on his shelves and he went on to tell me that he was regularly supplied with them from the UK. At that time, I had thought, naively, that I was trapped in the triangular transatlantic book trade – my books, written and printed in Nigeria, had to be shipped five thousand kilometres to England before being shipped back to the continent for my other African readers.
Turns out there was no triangle after all: the books were UK-born bastards. More’s the pity. I can only advise that our local pirates consider a UK masters degree in their field: they are pathetically out-pointed by their peers in the west. If you are a fellow creative with book or media credits it might also be a good idea to search the catalogues of our online vendors to see if your wares are still yours. You are welcome to share any horror tales for our mutual diversion, because real life now clearly beats fiction when it comes to the X-factor. If you were ever duped into buying my books or anyone else’s through any of these dodgy sites I would, of course, love to hear from you.
Not long ago, I heard from a publisher how an enterprising Nigerian businessman secured a contract to supply textbooks to a state ministry of education. That was (for those in the know) a killer deal, but to make the contract even more lucrative, he did not speak to either author or publisher. Instead, he repaired to China with a copy of the textbook and returned with several containers of China-born illegitimates… because folks who would never steal a grain of rice from a trader would think nothing of stealing containers of a writer’s blood and sweat. Sadly for the pirate on that occasion, the books were interdicted at the Lagos port and burned with pomp.
It ended in pirate tears back then, dear readers. As will this fourth dimension of plagiarism.