In the late ’90s and early 2000s, the incursion of file-sharing monsters like Napster, Limewire, and Kazaa into global music nearly brought the industry to its knees. Showbiz and its legal backings, many would argue, were largely unprepared for the shifts that accompanied the emergence of the internet and digital space. Artistes panicked. Top players and labels like Warner Brothers, Sony, Universal, Island, and Interscope were soon locked in fierce legal tussles with these platforms.
Half a decade earlier was the age of the CD boom, which would phase out the cassette era. By the year 2000, dominant genres of the ‘80s and ‘90s took the backseat in Nigeria as Afrobeats became the top choice in the clubs and street shows.
It wasn’t long before piracy started eating into profits. Street-to-street record selling had been a norm at the time; e-distribution had yet to catch on. Makeshift city stores churning out thousands of pirated CDs and compilations of various sorts proliferated — a trend that greatly denied artistes the perquisites of their intellectual property (IP). This reality would take on a new dimension with the advent of digital streaming platforms (DSPs).
In the 2010s, it wasn’t uncommon to see club owners and nightlife promoters throng commercial hubs like Lagos’ Alaba market from far and near to load up flash drives with trending hits. Today, Nigeria’s music industry players still struggle to knock out random blogs illegally offering songs for free, barely minutes after they debut on streamers like Apple and Spotify.
N10.5 trillion lost/unrealised annually — how bad is e-piracy currently?
A population of 210 million — where about 62% are below age 25 — should be a positive indicator for entertainment firms, making for a rather large market to milk. It should translate to increased streaming numbers enough to rake in more income and significantly drive GDP. A lot of music is created in Nigeria, with new musicians frequently coming aboard. Hundreds of albums are produced annually, covering a wide range of genres. Indigenous hitmakers have severally clinched deals with major labels and bagged prestigious awards after hitting the limelight globally.
Nigeria’s music culture continues to grow, with Afrobeats gaining worldwide acceptance but this doesn’t reflect as much as it should in revenue. The entertainment industry was valued at $3.6 billion in 2016 and was projected to hit $6.4 billion by 2021. Music revenue alone, PwC revealed, would hit $73 million in 2021, growing at 13.4% yearly. In comparison, South Africa, with 60 million in population, has its music revenue projected to hit $188 million in 2021, growing at 5.5% annually.
These statistics show that Nigeria’s music executives face difficulties monetising musical works and exploiting the country’s demographic dividends. The industry struggles with illegal uploads and downloads and this was evident when Johnny Drille, an alternative rock star, begged fans in March 2021 not to download but stream his projects. Music shouldn’t be free but, for some reason, the majority of Nigerian hit songs are on blogs at no cost.
It is not exactly easy to ascertain how much Nigeria’s music industry loses to piracy in its entirety but Pretty Okafor, president of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN), put it at a mindboggling N10.5 trillion annually while accounting for unclaimed royalties globally and nonpayment for the usage of Nigerian works across Africa.
Outdated anti-piracy laws & how technology is saving artistes
Rights accruable to owners of musical works are captured in the Nigerian Copyright Act (NCA) of 2004. However, music industry executives argue that it doesn’t adequately account for trends in the digital economy. Mayowa Ayilaran, the CEO of the Music Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN), also cited delays in the justice system, which he said often results in situations where many infringement cases drag on for long in court. He cited an example of the organisation’s protracted tussle with Multichoice, which he said was in court from 2006 to 2020.
Yemi Oladapo, entertainment lawyer and ex-licensing/publishing manager at Mavin Records, said laws need to be updated to allow automatic takedowns of illegally distributed music. He said the challenge with seeking redress in court isn’t so much about updated laws as it is about swift justice delivery and digitally literate judges.
“NCA 2004 provides for copyright protection generally, depending on how you interpret and enforce it. But in the specifics of how digital technology in music has evolved, it’s important that our laws address them. You can write laws and make them very long but the big problem isn’t the law; it’s the enforcement part of it,” Oladapo said.
Edward Israel-Ayide, former marketing & business development manager at Chocolate City, said the only tool many artistes have at their disposal is to get the owners of the websites to take down the illegal content.
“In established markets, you have a structure that allows DMCA takedowns. It’s a service where you ask the ISP hosting the site or the service of whoever uploaded that content to take down the content from that website; online file. The good thing is a lot of artistes now have international distribution deals either directly or through third parties. These distributors protect their own investment by subscribing to DMCA service providers,” he said.
“If anyone puts up that music, they can then take it down. For instance, you distribute to Apple Music through Africori, which actively looks out for illegal music uploads. They reach out and have it taken down instantly.”
To stem the tide of illegal distribution, MCSN adopted a recognition technology to monitor music usage across digital and terrestrial platforms. With a dashboard, artistes access data that forecast revenue and track the usage of their works by radio, clubs, and DSPs to social media and more. The app was introduced into the market in June 2020 and rolled out in early 2021 but getting all stakeholders to adopt this system, Okafor explained, remains the challenge.
Online piracy paradox — artiste inaction & the ‘necessary evil’
Campaigns have been staged to educate music stakeholders on how illegal uploads cut down revenue. Consequently, some pirate sites rebased their brands away from downloads. But a Google search on any Nigerian hitmaker still shows random blogs offering their songs for free. This pushes consumers to patronise these platforms rather than stream or buy songs from DSPs.
There is also the self-harm by artistes who patronise pirate sites as a marketing strategy that caters to low-income audiences who can neither afford to buy songs on the licensed DSPs nor pay streaming subscriptions. World Bank estimates that 98 million Nigerians —about 47.3 percent give or take — live in poverty. Nigerian artistes don’t make the bulk of their earnings from streaming. They leverage brand endorsements, merchandise sales, and concerts to break even — hence, they are inclined to jump at avenues to achieve wider audience coverage.
In early 2021, Dotman, an Afropop singer, had argued that many Nigerian artistes need piracy to attain increased music circulation due to a structure he claimed is rigged against creatives.
“It’s crazy, but in an industry like ours, do we need the piracy? I won’t lie. Yes, we do, so this thing can circulate. Let any artiste prove me wrong they don’t need it. It’s crazy! If we had a proper detailed structure on how things should move or flow in an industry like ours, piracy won’t even be a conversation,” Dotman had told TheCable Lifestyle.
Commenting on this point of view, Edward said some artistes actively encourage the e-piracy culture by giving out their songs to blogs for free upload.
“They feel the streaming ecosystem is a bit limited. They want to reach more people. I don’t want to mention names but some online pirates became celebrities in the music industry and a lot of artistes are friends with them,” the ex-label executive said.
“They’ve become allies in some way that they owe these guys for what they are. Some rebased their businesses but many still put up music for free. An artiste or label needs to make an example of these guys. But a lot of those who you would expect should be at the forefront of the fight against e-piracy see it as a necessary evil.”
Speaking on the effect of this shared reality and the difficulty artistes face in tackling it, Reminisce, a multi-genre hitmaker, noted: “You can release your album in Surulere, Lagos today and find a website in Romania offering it for free in a few hours. How will you get the police to go arrest them?
“We often rely on technology to help us fight this menace and, while that is being done, we focus on creating the content. We still need globally enforceable IP laws.”
Audience reach & opportunity cost — finding the balance
The average price for legally downloading music albums in Nigeria on iTunes ranges between N1,500 and N2000 (about $3.7 to $4.9 at N411 per dollar), as against those of many foreign artistes which can cost as much as $9.9 per album download. EPs and singles are often cheaper, with Tiwa Savage’s body of work ‘Water & Garri’ costing only N700, less than $2. A month’s streaming subscription for Apple Music costs about N900.
To ascertain consumer behaviour, 24 randomly selected music listeners in Lagos were asked about their usage of streaming platforms. The majority — 87 percent — said they had never bought music albums on DSPs or considered paying subscription fees. Probed further, they argued that a fee of N1,800 on iTunes was “too costly” while others cited the existence of free alternatives.
Speaking to this, Edward said: “Illegal downloads can also be due to structure in the distribution chain. Some listeners don’t understand the streaming tech. It could be that they’re willing to pay but not so much as they’re being billed. Maybe there’s a gap someone has fill and make people pay a negligible fee for legal access to albums and singles.
“In some cases, they don’t patronise pirate sites because the content is free but due to user experience. People at times just want to download music and pay for data once. The idea of them having to pay through data every time they want to play that music is still strange or not cost-effective. These are gaps we need to fix. It’s not the fault of artistes or the industry. It’s just the reality of things. Nigeria is a poor country, whether we want to accept it or not.”
Many Nigerian artistes who allow their music to remain on pirate sites see it as an opportunity to get more traction. While it doesn’t directly translate to revenue, it allows them to connect with audiences at the grassroots, and this helps them to recoup their losses by potentially selling out local and cross-national shows.
On how artistes can maximise coverage without using pirate blogs, Oladapo said: “You can twist it such that you’re using legal platforms while creating an avenue for relatively cheap or free music via Sound Cloud, Audiomack, or Boomplay. We focus on one approach when solving [but] it has to be holistic, where we get to educate all stakeholders.
“There’s a need to analyse the driving forces of piracy. We did ourselves the disservice of looking at it one-sidedly for so long. We have to be economically realistic. If I’ve not eaten this morning, I won’t think about buying music. Artistes need to maintain that their songs are not going to be released on blogs for free but on certain streamers.”
Bottom line: Pushing Nigeria’s understandably frugal music listeners to adjust and see songs as commercial products that have to be purchased will cost indigenous artistes some hits and initial losses, yet, consumer behaviour changes. It only takes time and investment in developing affordable and easy-to-use solutions.
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