RETHINKING PIRACY: EXAMINING MARKETS IN THE AGE OF INFORMATION

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By Yasmine Hung
Staff Writer

As the entertainment industry becomes increasingly globalized and digitized, so too have methods of illicit media distribution. But is this truly as damaging to content producers as we’ve been led to believe? Let’s take a moment to consider how much of the entertainment that we consume is both foreign and illegally downloaded. Regardless of your level of interest in foreign movies or music, chances are that most of us have participated in this trend of illegal media distribution in some way or another. In order to explore this in more depth, I will take a look at media piracy as a whole and then more specifically at both Nigeria and Japan.

Piracy on a Global Scale

Whether we feel guilty about it or not, we all know that piracy is an act in which we should not be involved. If we had a pure conscience as consumers, we would do everything in our power to find legal copies and purchase them through any means available. Unfortunately, foreign media is more often than not simply unavailable legally in our resident countries due to the lack of economic incentives to license content.

Exporting mass media in the 20th century required a legal infrastructure which recognized intellectual property and international trade negotiations. Governments played significant roles in regulating the content that entered its borders, giving them control over citizens’ access to information and entertainment. This is a power that particularly autocratic countries can use to censor messages that they find objectionable. In countries like China, where censorship heavily restricts the import of foreign media, movies are often banned or severely edited to remove unpatriotic messages. The introduction of new media technology has changed the ways in which media can be transported across borders worldwide.

Much of the current discourse on piracy focuses on the damage to the economy as a result of illegal downloads and the redistribution of pirated movies and films. The Recording Industry Association of America released a report saying that losses to the music industry due to peer-to-peer file sharing and the sale of pirated CDs range from anywhere between 7 to 50 percent during the late 1990s to early 2000s. The film industry is likewise heavily impacted, especially in places like China where college students consume 75 percent of their movies through unlawful channels. However, the issue with calculating lost revenue caused by piracy is that there is virtually no way of knowing whether people who download or purchase pirated media would even pay for legal versions if they were easily available. It is impossible to account for the potential earnings that are lost due to file sharing because citizens might not have been able to purchase them through legal means.

An even more radical way of looking at piracy is to recognize that the illegal distribution of copyrighted materials can help pave the way in opening potential markets. This is achieved by reaching wider audiences and creating higher demands for music and film in regions throughout the world. These new markets, in turn, serve as a popularity indicator and this framework is especially salient in the context of media globalization. While the United States continues to dominate international media output and exert its cultural hegemony over the world, the flow of transnational media and culture is not as unipolar as it would appear.

Nigeria

Second to only India’s Bollywood, Nigeria’s film industry, Nollywood, is one of the world’s most prolific film industries. It boasted earnings of $3 billion in 2014 and generates a staggering average of 2000 films a year. These movies are produced on the most threadbare of budgets ranging from $10,000 to $75,000 (compared to around $250 million in Hollywood) and sell for about a dollar or two. They also have accordingly low production values as the majority of the films are shot with VHS recorders or on digital cameras.

The industry is mostly informal with few legal regulations for distribution. In a country where few can afford to regularly go to the cinema for their entertainment fix, the majority of these films are released directly to DVD and sold for home consumption in market stalls and warehouses. As it turns out, the DVD format for these films makes it particularly convenient for pirates to reproduce and sell them on the black market. In as little as two weeks after the initial release of a typical film, pirated copies can be found being sold, often producing as many copies as those which were legitimately printed.

Media scholar Henry Jenkins describes in his book “Spreadable Media” the highly ambivalent relationship between the content producers and pirates.  The rampant distribution of pirated DVDs has a disproportionately large impact on the producers who have to work with such slim budgets.  These discs reach an estimated audience of millions throughout Africa and in select European countries.  Though pirated copies are sold in Nigeria, the majority of them end up in African nations like Ghana, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Zambia, The Democratic Republic of Congo and African supermarkets in Greece and North America. Pirated copies have great appeal among audiences due to the unique perspectives that they portray. Stories often incorporate pan-African values which illustrate the difficulties of everyday life, political debate and stress the importance of African identity in a continent that was freed from colonialism only in the latter half of the previous century.

In response to this volatile and unstable, but potentially lucrative industry, Nigerian filmmakers have attempted to coopt government authorities in order to gain control over the distribution of their work and ensure that profits from pirated copies end up in their hands. In recent years, producers have campaigned for stronger copyright laws and increased crackdowns on illicit distributors of the films. Where the Nigerian government has lacked the capability to create legal infrastructure and enforcement for media distribution, African digital startup companies have attempted to fill the gap. With the internet becoming increasingly accessible, producers have partnered with these startups to facilitate global online distribution. iROKOtv is one such example, delivering content worldwide for a subscription rate of $5 per month.  They are able to reach global audiences much easier than pirated content ever could and assist in generating profit for both distributors and producers.

 Japan

The popularity of Japanese anime is another phenomenon that has been aided significantly by piracy. Not counting popular children’s shows like “Pokémon” and “Sailor Moon,” anime has an extensive niche fandom in the US. Early fansubbing groups translated Japanese audio into English subtitles and made use of VHS tapes to circulate anime that were popular in Japan among Western fans. The legality of these circulation methods can certainly be questioned, particularly because tapes were often directly copied from Japanese ones and sent to the US. However, this was responsible for the creation of an early anime subculture in America during a time when licensed English-subtitled anime was almost impossible to find.

As internet technology developed and the number of people who used it for entertainment began to grow, fansubbers uploaded these illegal versions onto the internet in digital format and in much larger volumes than ever before. Simultaneously, fan-created works of art inspired by anime proliferated among fan communities on websites like DeviantArt. Fan-made parodies on YouTube have also grown increasingly popular.

This unlawful fan practice applies to Japanese comics as well. Scanlation groups often buy physical copies of manga, scan them into digital images, and replace Japanese text with English translations before uploading them onto manga sharing sites. The dual combination of accessibility to essentially free anime and booming fan communities gave anime a great deal of visibility and traction from the early 2000s through the current day. Certain anime series are still making a relatively mainstream impact in the U.S. today.

The proliferation of freely accessible anime and manga has caused growing alarm among Japanese animation production companies and English-language distributors alike. In response, the past few years have seen the growth of legal streaming services online in an effort to make subscriptions an attractive option to pirating. Crunchyroll has increased its services so that many on-air series can be watched at the same time they are broadcast in Japan, with the profits going directly to Japanese animation studios. The fan response to this has been, for the most part, positive. Many anime bloggers actively encourage fans to purchase subscriptions in order to support the industry in Japan, which has been declining domestically.

What sets anime piracy apart from its Nigerian counterpart is that anime pirates assist in creating part of the discourse. While the main goal of Nollywood film pirates is to make money, fansubbing and scanlation groups in Japan are often part of the fandom themselves. This engenders a greater feeling of obligation to reverse some of the damages that they have caused the anime industry. A select few fansubbing groups ask for donations in order to obtain legal copies in Japanese in order to add their own subtitles. However, the vast majority of fansubbing groups reject the idea of taking in donations or service fees for their work. Instead, they see themselves as dedicated fans who seek to make unlicensed anime more prominent and abide by an informal code of ethics. Within this pact, they promise to remove any fan translated works once licensed translations become available for purchase. Most scanlation groups include disclaimer pages with their manga uploads stating that their works will be removed once the original Japanese works become licensed for English translation. They also actively encourage manga readers to purchase their own copy if they have enjoyed it, thus effectively creating a try-before-you-buy system.

 Where Do We Go from Here?

Whether piracy will continue to serve as a pioneer for transnational media distribution in other regions of the world remains to be seen. That doesn’t deny the undeniably important role it has played in the burgeoning popularity of places like Nollywood. Piracy as a new business model is, of course, far from perfection. While it has increased the visibility of otherwise niche forms of entertainment, the distribution patterns still remain unbalanced. Nollywood has virtually no presence in the English-speaking film sphere and online anime distributors operate mainly in English which leave a vast majority of non-English speaking fans around the world without any means to watch licensed content. But, with more and more people accessing entertainment online, it is inevitable that the traditional means of media distribution will have to adapt to the changing demands of the future.

Image by Paul Keller

THE LOST GIRLS OF NIGERIA’S FORBIDDEN FOREST

14116279234_e237e671a4_oBy Bailey Marsheck
Staff Writer

Earlier this month, after two and a half years of grief and uncertainty, 21 Nigerian families were reunited with their long-lost daughters.  An agreement was reached with the militant Islamic terrorist organization, Boko Haram on October 16 which placed the girls into the hands of the Nigerian government for a brief evaluation before they were finally allowed to reconnect with their loved ones.  Despite the encouraging appearance of this development on the surface, there are still 197 other families who are waiting in anguish to discover the fate of their kidnapped daughters.

The ordeal started in April 2014 when 276 teenage girls were staying at a government boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria in preparation for their final science exam of the academic year. During the middle of the night, members of Boko Haram razed the town, abducted its female students and loaded them onto trucks. Some were able to escape in transit by jumping off the vehicles but the majority of the girls still remain missing over two years later. Heart-wrenching stories told by parents who desperately trailed their kidnapped daughters in hopes of recovery suggest that they were taken to Boko Haram’s unknown base secluded deep somewhere within the 120 square kilometers that make up the Sambisa Forest. The fate of the remaining Chibok girls remains uncertain due to inner turmoil within the ranks of Boko Haram as well as the various challenges presented by the natural geography of the Sambisa Forest.

The terrorist organization was originally founded in 2003 by Mohammed Yusuf as a religious movement in response to the divergence between Nigeria’s Christian south and Muslim north. The group first came into conflict with the Nigerian government in 2009 when the movement transformed into a violent uprising. Boko Haram continued to become more radical and anti-government as Yusuf’s followers grew.  Eventually, a police operation led to the arrest of prominent members of the organization for possession of bomb-making equipment and other weapons. Yusuf was imprisoned and died in jail which aggravated the group’s anti-government philosophies beyond their breaking point. Boko Haram’s actions have only escalated since then, resulting in suicide bombings on government installations, kidnappings of both locals and foreigners, and allying themselves with the extremist group ISIS.

Boko Haram’s ultimate goal is to end the country’s religious division by creating a purely Islamic state. Their name translates from the Nigerian dialect of Hausa to mean “western education is forbidden,” but applies generally to include hatred for western culture and religion as a whole. The group rejects the notion of allowing women any form of education and made a conscious decision to abduct and transport the female students instead of simply killing them. In a message to the media, Yuusuf’s successor Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for the Chibok attack and encouraged girls to leave school to marry while additionally informing the public that the captured girls would be sold as slave brides. Captives who managed to escape have reported that many girls were in fact married off to the group’s soldiers and were forced to convert to Islam under the threat of physical and psychological abuse.

Despite conflicting sources regarding the agreement, the release of the 21 girls was confirmed to be facilitated by both the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Reports outlined payments ranging from cash sums to the release of Boko Haram commanders, the latter of which the Nigerian government vehemently denies. This negotiation seems to have opened up the possibility of future talks with Boko Haram, or at least with the faction responsible for the deal. The terrorist group underwent a complicated split in August, with a portion siding with original leader Abubakar Shekau while the other fraction opted to follow ISIS-backed Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the first son of Muhammed Yusuf. The dissonance is suspected to be over Shekau’s willingness to murder Muslims in pursuit of his end goals.

The release was negotiated with the ISIS-aligned faction, which has been much more willing to enter into talks regarding the release of prisoners since the two groups split. Since then, there have been efforts to expedite a proposed swap of 83 more girls.  However, doubts remain about whether the group is in control of the additional 100 missing girls as it is likely that the captives were split between the two factions. A further uncertainty in the situation persists over whether the remaining prisoners might be reluctant to return home in shame of their assumed forced marriages and potential pregnancies.

These diplomatic challenges are met by geographic ones too, as the Sambisa Forest serves as the last logistical obstacle to the rescue of the remaining girls. Boko Haram’s forces operate under the cover of brush so dense that it cannot be detected by aerial surveillance. Regular patrols by militants coupled with a minefield of Improvised Explosive Devices make penetrating the forest on foot a logistical nightmare. The Chibok abduction occurred near the height of Boko Haram’s power in 2014 and since then the Nigerian army has been reclaiming territory in the surrounding state of Borno city-by-city in a tiresome campaign that is only further prolonged by the sect’s propensity for guerilla tactics. The army has started pushing their forces into the forest in an attempt to oust Boko Haram from their final major Nigerian stronghold. Yet, progress is slow and has been further impaired as the group’s camps are often found already abandoned. On October 2, the Nigerian military launched “Operation Forest Storm” which was an airstrike offensive meant to cripple key bases within the forest. While this increased the possibility of collateral damage, the ground assault has simply taken too long and been ineffective. Nigeria’s government and citizens at large have grown increasingly eager to end Boko Haram’s harmful influence on the country and move past the years of armed conflict.

But questions still remain.  Where are the remaining Chibok girls located within the vast Sambisa forest? Are they with the Shekau-aligned portion of Boko Haram or the ISIS faction? Are they still alive? Have they been radicalized? Have they stealthily been whisked to another hidden location? Will a second deal for the additional 83 girls come to fruition, and if so, in what terms?

While the return of the initial 21 girls may have ended this tragic saga for a few, many more families are left to wait without answers. The only way to discover the true fate of the Chibok girls is to penetrate into Sambisa and retrieve Boko Haram’s secrets from within the darkness of Nigeria’s forbidden forest and cast them into the light.

Image by Michael Fleshman

 

AN INSECURE DEMOCRACY: WHAT NIGERIA STANDS TO LOSE IN ITS NEXT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

By Andrew Muse-Fisher
Staff Writer

In the past year, mainstream news outlets have accentuated Nigeria’s extremist Boko Haram, reporting how the group has kidnapped, bombed and murdered Nigerians to promote their Islamic values. Though the threat that Boko Haram poses is the nation’s foremost security problem, it is only one item of debate between the two presidential candidates. With the election scheduled for February 14, incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and challenger Muhammadu Buhari are pushing their opposing policies, but both are testing the limits of Nigeria’s infant democracy.

Boko Haram formed in 2002 in Nigeria’s northeast, a predominantly Muslim region. Only in 2009 did the group take to widespread violence to make its political statements. Its goals to promote sharia law and “forbid western education” have led to the deaths of around 5,000 Nigerians [1]. Most recently, Boko Haram has taken to large-scale assaults on cities in the northern region of the country, hinting at the growing strength and ambitions of the group.

In spite of the upcoming elections, President Jonathan has taken a less than stern stance on fighting the insurgents. Rather than focusing on boosting military efforts, he has passed off the issue as a regional problem. Though he has promised to rebuild villages razed by Boko Haram, President Jonathan has drawn accusations of posturing from Mr. Buhari. As a former military leader, Mr. Buhari has had no difficulties in gaining popularity with his campaign platform, built upon the promise of eradicating “the first problem of the country.” While Boko Haram has divided Nigeria’s political landscape, it has distracted the nation from working towards sturdier foundations as a developing economy.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, mainly because it is also Africa’s leading oil producer and exporter. Nigeria’s reliance on oil is a prime example of a resource curse; that is, Nigeria has relied on oil for economic growth rather than expand its other industries. Its dependence is particularly relevant now that the increased international supply has forced exporters in Nigeria to lower prices. This has caused the Nigerian Naira to fall to record lows. Though the government is aware of the crippling effect of oil dependence, it is not likely to implement substantial stabilization efforts until the elections are over.

To counteract the resource curse, President Jonathan has announced the necessity of reviving agriculture, an industry that was overshadowed upon the discovery of oil fields. In a recent speech at the 2015 Agriculture Festival, he labeled himself as the “farmers’ president” and went on to say that “agriculture is now the lifeline for Nigeria.” If he is successful in increasing the output and efficiency of Nigeria’s agriculture sector, President Jonathan will be able to aid rural economies and increase the country’s trade potential.

While Jonathan discusses forming a less volatile economy, Buhari aims to increase accountability of those overseeing the economy. Recently, Mr. Buhari announced his goal to eliminate corruption within the Nigerian government. Nigeria has a long history of corruption at all levels of the government, which has typically included skimming government funds or entitling benefits to oil companies in exchange for a percentage of the profits. Mr. Buhari sees corruption as the main obstacle between Nigeria and a strong economy. However, because of such an entrenched pattern of corruption and the nature of campaign promises—President Jonathan has himself been accused of corruption—it is easy to take Mr. Buhari’s goal with a grain of salt.

The upcoming elections carry greater magnitude considering that Nigeria’s democracy is only 16 years old. Because of enduring tension between the Islamic military leaders of the North and the more Christian leaders of the South, the country uses a system called zoning to balance power [2]. Zoning requires that if a president is from the north, the vice president must be from the south, and vice versa. Furthermore, when a president’s term is up, the next president must come from the opposite region. When President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner, died in 2010, then-vice president Jonathan took over as president [3]. Because he is running for the office, President Jonathan has broken the zoning rule. His blatant disregard for rules, informal or not, brings into question whether or not Jonathan is a truly democratic leader. However, if he wins, he will prove the people’s desire for economic reorganization and reform over the necessity for democratic procedure. If Mr. Buhari is elected, it will stem from his promise of security. His history as a dictator will be proven irrelevant as long as he can provide safety from Boko Haram.

Nigeria needs stability if it is to remain Africa’s most economically powerful nation. This entails fighting back any and all terrorist threats, as well as implementing long-term reforms to diversify the nation’s economy and to reduce corruption. And because Nigeria houses two main contentious regional groups, these stabilizing efforts only carry a guarantee if done under cooperative terms. Both candidates are capable of implementing at least some of the necessary reforms, but if either refrains from acting on democratic terms, Nigeria risks bending to each economic and military threat alike.

Image by World Economic Forum

Notes

[1] Sergie, Mohammed A., and Toni Johnson. “Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Ansaru.”Council on Foreign Relations (2014): n. pag. Web.

[2] Campbell, John. “Electoral Violence in Nigeria.” Council on Foreign Relations(2010): n. pag. Web.

[3] Ibid.