Liberia-Nigeria Friendship Threatened by Anti-Piracy Fight

 By Samuel G. Dweh | Freelance Development Journalist; president—Liberia Association of Writers (LAW)   Contacts —+231  (0)886618906/776583266/samuelosophy@yahoo.com/samuelosophy1@gmail.com|

Leaders of Countries: Liberia’s George Manneh Weah & Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari

The Liberian anti-piracy exercise covers all Countries’ citizens involved into unauthorized importation, duplication, or sale of other people’s Intellectual Properties in Liberia.

But the composition of “marketers” and “comments” at an Out-of-Courtroom-settlement meeting held in the Conference Room of the Liberia Intellectual Property (LIPO), on UN Drive, Monrovia, on Wednesday, September 2, 2020 gave a ‘Liberia-Against-Nigeria’ feature to this all-compassing exercise. Only Nigerian (movie/music) marketers were at the meeting, and the tone of voices from many of the Liberian speakers indicated that ‘Nigerians are at the top of the list of private business owners into copyright-related infringements in Liberia’.

On the 25th of August, 2020, the George Manneh Weah-led Government of Liberia began seizing what it term “illegal products” from Stores owned by Liberians, Nigerians and other foreigners operating in Liberia.

The items confiscated, under an operation named “Search and Seizure”, included Discs (with songs or movies) and many other electronic devices, and shutdown most of the Stores.

In nine days, from August 25, the Government’s Task Force, with order from the Liberian Commercial Court, had raided various Stores in Monrovia and its environs, confiscating hundreds of goods with commercial value running into thousands of United States Dollars. They were loaded into waiting vehicles to be conveyed into Government’s “custody”.

However, some unauthorized persons were still raiding Stores—for “illegal goods”—while the meeting, suggested by the Commercial Court’s Presiding Judge over the “complaints”, was going on at LIPO’s Conference Room.

The Liberian Government’s actions were based on complaints from the Leadership of the National Collective Societies of Liberia (COSLIB) comprising eight Unions in the “creativity business”. The Unions are: Liberia National Culture Union; Liberia Association of Writers (LAW); Liberia Movie Union; Musicians Union of Liberia; Union of Liberian Artists; National Photographers Union of Liberia; Liberia Professional Chefs Association; and Liberia National Tailors, Textile, Garment & Allied Workers Union.

But the Government started with fighting for only two of the Unions: Liberia Movie Union (LIMU), headed by Gregory Artus Frank; and Musicians Union of Liberia (MULIB), headed by Sammy Gboguy, Jr.

“Today’s meeting is for peaceful resolution into the ongoing anti-piracy engagements between the body of Liberian creative unions and business people involved into sale of products from other people’s intellect, based on advice from the Commercial Court’s Judge over the case,” Mr. Clifford Robinson, Jr., Deputy Director-General of the Liberia Intellectual Property Office (LIPO), announced to representatives of affected marketers of Movies and Music and Liberian creativity community. The DDG was standing in the position of his boss, LIPO’s Director-General, Attorney P. Adelyn Cooper, who was expected to chair the meeting, present at the Meeting, but relinquished responsibility to her Deputy, former President of the Liberia Movie Union.

“I remember the Marketers given three months, in the past, to abide by Liberia’s Intellectual Property Laws, but in almost two years we couldn’t see compliance by you,  which has brought us at where we are—Court’s intervention and seizures,”,” Mr. Robinson reminded the all-Nigerians representative body of the Liberia Movie Marketers Association.

Two officials of the Nigerian Embassy took seats at the marketers’ side of the meeting venue.

The Meeting’s Chair called for repetition, reading, of LIMU’s Petition presented to the Court.

“All Marketers/Distributors shall present a Power of Attorney from the Producer of a film, both local and international, giving him or her ultimate right to release said film on the Liberian Market,” Mr. Andrew Mossima, Chief of Office Staff of the Liberia Movie Union, and Chairman of COSLIB’s Secretariat, read the first of the Clauses in the Petition. “All Marketers/Distributors shall sell only film on a CD (in a disc jacket) and avoid CDs that contain many pirated films.”

The third, and only, Clause said, “All Marketers/Distributors shall to the Liberia Intellectual Property Office (Copyright Department) to obtain clearance before selling any CD on the Liberian Market.”

The most  sticky issue was “clearance”, from any Store, intellectual product that fell out of the Clauses in the Petitions read LIMU’s COS.

During the main discussion, tempers flared from the sides of the producers and representatives of the Government of Liberia.

“If this issue isn’t resolved here, we, producers, will go back to the Commercial Court, or beyond to the Chief Justice of the Republic of Liberia!” declared Mr. Gregory Artus Frank, President of the Liberia Movie Union, and Chairman of the umbrella body of Liberia’s individual creativity bodies, who had featured in several movies in the Nigerian Movie Industry named Nollywood.

Responding to the threat, the president of the Marketers’ Association said clearing a store in three months, as demanded, by producers’ representative body, in collaboration with the Liberian Government, wasn’t possible.

“Clearance is not a work that can be done in three to six months. Maybe it can be done in one year,” said Mr. Chris Iyke, President of the Liberia Movie Marketers Association, but made added submissively. “We are ready to work with the Liberia Movie Union.” His owns one of the biggest and popular Movie Discs sale Stores in Monrovia.

The representative of the Nigerian Embassy in Liberia blamed his compatriots for flouting Liberia’s Copyright Law.

“Any business person who says it shouldn’t be good for another business person should be aware that it won’t be good for you, too,” said Mr. P. Matthew Etietop (Pastor), Secretary General, Nigerian Embassy in Liberia.

The Nigerian Embassy’s Official also cautioned the conflicting parties: “Let’s not forget the friendship of your Country, Liberia.”

Responding to the caution from the Nigerian Embassy’s representative, LIPO’s Director-General, who studied Intellectual Property Law, at the University, declared: “The Liberia-Nigeria friendship can’t be destroyed; however, the business people from Liberia’s sister Countries should obey the Copyright Law of their host Country.”

LIPO’s Deputy Director General threw a question to the Marketers’ president, inquiring whether each of the Association’s members had obtained an authorization (Power of Attorney) from producers of Movies and Music (in Discs) they are selling.

The Marketers’ president responded: “In Nigeria, we bought the movies, in Discs, from the Open Market. No authorization letter was given by the traders. Only receipts were given. In Liberia, we got authorization papers from the Liberian producers.”

Responding to the Nigerian movie marketers’ assertion, Mr. Prince E. Decker, Executive Director of the Copyright Society of Liberia (COSOL), remarked: “To my knowledge, the Nigerian Government monitors all marketing activities in the Intellectual Property sector. We had been informed by Mr. Frank Okoro, a former Minister of Information of Nigeria, who had come to Liberia years back to tutor Liberia Copyright Office on Intellectual Property matter.”

The Ministry of Commerce & Industry (MOCI), represented by Mr. Roland Morris, a veteran Liberian movie producer, and now Intellectual Property-related Consultant, made interventions. Mr. Morris reminded the all-Nigerians’ body present that they had attended several meetings, in past years, on the issues that were being discussed on September 2.

“Any business person involved into Intellectual Property-related business should fall into line with the Liberia’s Law on Copyright or Intellectual Property, or should fall out, if he or she doesn’t want to abide by the Law,” Mr. Morris said.

Representative of the Musicians Union (MULIB) of Liberia, Prakash Bestman, advised the Marketers’ president to submit to the Copyright-related demands of COSLIB and the Government of Liberia.

“Based on your long period of residence in Liberia, which goes beyond twelve years, I consider you a Liberian, and I wish you will abide by the Copyright Law of your second Home, Liberia, to be in business-related peace,” the MULIB’s representative said.

Liberians are not against sale of foreign movies by Liberia-based Nigerian business persons or other Countries’ nationals into commercial ventures in Liberia, LIPO’s Deputy Director General Mr. Clifford Robinson, Jr. said empathetically to the body of Movie Marketers at the Meeting.

“What Liberian Movie makers are saying is: Do not sell only foreign movies. If you have at least thirty percent of Liberian movies and seventy percent foreign movies on the same shelves, Liberian movie makers won’t complain much, I believe,” Mr. Robinson advised.

While the meeting was going on, the Marketers’ Association’s president received a phone call from a male member complaining about harassment by a group of Liberians, led by one “Melvin”, seizing goods (Movie and Music Dics), claiming they were acting on orders from president of the Liberia Movie Union.

The Nigerian leader passed his phone to Movie Union president to speak with the intimidators.

“Melvin!” the Movie Union’s president called the name of the Enforcement Team’s leader, “we have given orders for suspension of the Search and Seizure…I didn’t authorize you to close anybody’s Store…If the Commerce Ministry has authorized you, as you just told me now, you say that to the person whose Store you’re closing…Don’t tell the person I, president of the Liberia Movie Union, authorized you…” The conversation went over three minutes.

The main meeting ran beyond four hours, and the representative body of the Movie/Music marketers couldn’t bulge to the Liberia Movie Union’s demand of “three months” for clearance of their respective Stores of Intellectual Products not “licensed” under Liberia’s Copyright Law.

LIPO’s Deputy Director General, Mr. Clifford Robinson, suggested a “brainstorming session” by the body of Marketers outside of the Conference Room.

“You can take ten to fifteen minutes to decide on when you will clear your Stores of non-registered products, we will wait for you,” Mr. Robinson said to the group of Nigerians.

The guests filed out of the hall.

Over fifteen minutes later, they returned.

The Marketers’ president delivered what the body had discussed outside of the Conference Hall: “We, marketers, are appealing to the Artus and his people to give us two years to clear our Stores,” he maintained.

The “time frame” sparked another rounds of protestations in the Liberian delegation.

“We will go back to the Court!” the Liberia Movie Union president declared, and marched out of the Conference Hall.

Later, LIPO’s Deputy Director General invited the guests into his official office for further discussion.

In reality, over half percent of the Liberian non-movie practitioners who buy movies only to watch do not like “Liberian movies”. They prefer foreign movies, instead. The common reasons given by these people are: bad English (pronunciation), confusing storyline (plot), unnecessary noises (dialogue) between two characters, poor picture quality of (majority) of Liberian Movies—among other discouraging factors.

“I do not watch most of the Liberian movies, especially the ones produced after the civil war, due most to wrong pronunciations of English words,” disclosed veteran Liberian Educator, Writer, Author and pre-war Playwright and dramatist—Mary Laurene Browne (OSF), current President of the Stella Maris Polytechnic University, during a discussion between her and the president of the Liberia Association of Writers (LAW) in February, 2020. The discussion was on LAW’s planned production of an education movie based on LAW president’s 16-chapter novel, titled “Grade Sin”, about sixteen of educational issues in Liberian grade schools, including sexual harassment for free grades/promotion; students’ addiction to drug and its impact on their behavior or participation in learning activities; and fourteen other issues. The Author provides solution method to each of these issues through the action of the lead character in each chapter.

The issue of “poor quality Liberian movies” came out in one of the meetings of the Liberia Movie Union, disclosed president Gregory Artus Frank to a small group of acquaintances during a chit-chat at a Cultural Festival held at the Providence Island, Monrovia on December 25, 2019. The Festival was organized on the partnership of the Cultural Department of the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs & Tourism (MICAT) and the Collective Societies of Liberia (COSLIB)

“During that Movie Union’s meeting, one of the issues that came up was a suggestion of the need to raid foreign movies from the Liberian market. Another Movie Union’s member posed a question to the other who was making this demand on the Leadership: Do we have enough quality Liberian movies to take the place of Nigerian movies?” LIMU president Artus Frank narrated at the Cultural Festival.

When the LIPO’s Conference Hall was left with only two persons, a member of the body of Nigerian Movie Marketers at the September 2’s meeting threw a question to no specific person:

“How can you compel me, a businessman to sell a product most of the buyers don’t like?”

The enforcement actions of Liberia’s Intellectual Property by the Liberian Government-COSLIB partnership and the continued “refusal” (non-compliance) by the Nigerian Business persons set have the potential of causing political cracks in the Liberia-Nigeria Friendship.

Both sister-Countries have been mutually benefitting from this Friendship.

Liberia came to Nigeria’s rescue during the latter’s struggle for Independence from the Britain’s imperialist indirect rule, and has a business corridor for Nigerian business persons to survive on selling of “spare cars’ spare parts, pharmaceutical drugs, Nigerian movies, etc.

Nigeria “rescue” Liberia during the latter’s tribal war period: contributed to end of the war, helped on post-war elections, and host exiled former Liberian Head of State, Charles Taylor

However, some Nigerian business persons have put themselves in local (Nigerian) International news on Intellectual Property infringements as reflected in reports from Nigerian media below.

“Piracy Rocks Ebonyi (State) University”—the SUN, June 17, 2004, page 18.

 

“Piracy: Musicians Storm Alaba International Market”—Daily Independent,  February 26, 2004, page E1.

“We write in a jungle where pirates gain—Elechi Amandi”—the Guardian, May 14, 2004, page 15.

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About Cholo Brooks 13151 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.

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