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Nigerian Artists Plan Anti-Piracy Task Force

A boy sells a music CD along a road in NIgeria's oil hub city of Port-Harcourt July 8, 2010.
A boy sells a music CD along a road in NIgeria's oil hub city of Port-Harcourt July 8, 2010.
Music piracy is so prevalent in Nigeria that most people do not consider buying original copies of the albums they want. Nigerian musical artists say the practice is killing what could be a booming industry and they are gearing up to fight back.

The country has copyright laws, but by shopping in the markets, you would not know it. Newly-released Hollywood movies sell for less than $3 and CDs cost about 95 cents.

Ranking Deezed is the president of Performing Musicians and Employers Association of Nigeria. The organization has about 100,000 members. He said the Nigerian music industry has the potential to become an economic success - like Nigeria's "Nollywood," the third-largest film industry in the world.

“Artists are increasing. Talents are increasing. In fact, studios are increasing," Deezed noted. "We have producers that have studios in their homes. But then the market is what’s the problem.”

What happens in the markets, he said, just about cuts out any chance the artists have of making a profit from their music. Original CDs are released and sold for a little over $3. But if the music is good, he says, the market is swiftly flooded with copies sold wholesale for less than 25 cents.

“We learned of some companies, or let me say pirates, in Lagos that duplicate almost like 10 million copies in almost like a week or so. So that is really bad,” he said.

Dezeed said his organization is setting up a task force to catch music pirates and turn them in to authorities.

In northern Nigeria, Copyright Commission law enforcement director Amadu Augustin Aleo said his organization has caught 170 people copying CDs or stealing music and marketing it as their own in the past six months.

He said the punishment can be a more than $1,500 fine or prison time, but the commission needs more support to slow the growing piracy business.

And musicians say it is not just people copying CDs and selling them in the markets that is hurting their ability to profit from their work. They say their music is also regularly shared illegally on the Internet or through mobile-phone ringtones.

Jerry Marshall has recorded seven albums and said he has been ripped off by pirates more times than he can count. H said the new task force could change all that.

“My advice to those marketers, those who sell music, those who pirate music. They should be very careful because the law will soon come to them,” Marshall warned.

But he acknowledged that outside the arts community, most people in Nigeria - a country facing security crises, natural disasters and widespread abject poverty - do not care about music piracy.

And in this Abuja market, like markets all over the country, young men sell CDs and DVDs openly from stalls or piles in their hands. Many offer money-back guarantees if the copy does not work.

A lot of Nigerians know they are buying pirated entertainment. What is not commonly known, is that there is anyone at all who objects.

Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna