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Tuesday, 11 December 2012
The Copyright Levy and other absurdities
1. BUYING THE RIGHT TO STEAL…?
“Should anyone by craft of any device whatever, abstract this book from this place, may his soul suffer in retribution for what he has done, and may his name be erased from the book of the living and not recorded among the Blessed.”
This was a typical horror-warning on many copyrighted materials of the Middle Ages. Surely, the urge to steal another’s content is not a 21st century development and the efforts to curb it have evolved accordingly. Sometime within ascertainable history of France, the King had monopolised ownership of design patterns on certain fabric and made unauthorized copying of these patterns an offence punishable by violent death. Today however, technology has steadily ridiculed the Law in the quest for controlled use of content through fast paced devices that transmit intangible copies at the speed of light.
But wait! Nigeria, the land of answers has suddenly thought up a viable way to end it all: by imposing a Copyright Levy. (I am still mad at myself for never having spotted this provision in our Laws. Or maybe I had, but my mind jettisoned it in disbelief). Well, the gist of the levy is that users shall pay specified amounts for every device that they own which is capable of being used to violate copyrighted content. In a nutshell, our phones, our laptops, printers, photocopiers, TVs, Hard Drives, Memory Sticks, etc. will henceforth be subject to this levy.
What’s the idea? The proponents say it is meant to create a Fund for copyright owners and ensure that they enjoy the fruits of their labour. It is a pre-emptive approach to enforcement, deserving of our collective applause.
But have we played the disturbing scenarios it raises? Of hulking thugs (the typical template of our enforcers) randomly snatching our phones and iPads on grounds that their levies are not up to date? Is the levy a sort of license for users to thereafter engage in illicit transmission having already done penance in advance? Also, supposing I am not a fan of hip-hop music, will my own contribution to the Fund be specifically channelled to just Highlife and Juju beneficiaries if these were my preferred categories? Before payment, will I make representations on the nature of music I listen to, or the authors I read, and compare the quantum of levies with the potential impact of my possible reproductions as observable from a credible Report Document availed by the enforcers? Why do I not also pay a levy for the knives in my kitchen as a pre-emptive safeguard for victims of violence? Why do I not also pay for my ears, my mouth and my natural memory as these can actually store and reproduce content without recourse to the stipulated Devices?
Don’t get me wrong, I am a big advocate of copyright integrity. Which lawyer isn’t, really? But which Lawyer also preaches unjustified proprietary invasion? Truly, the owner of a property has all the rights to deal with it as he wishes, as long as he does not put it to illegal use. And until such illegality is proven or is subject to investigation; the owner is entitled to quiet enjoyment.
The list of logical-disconnects can go on and on, but I suspect that what eats at me the most is the fact that, considering my love for musical Devices, persons like Tonto Dikeh now fall under foreseeable beneficiaries of my hard earned income!
2. WILLS: A GRAVE MISTAKE?
Draft your Will! Lawyers routinely preach this. Whether or not our ultimate goal is the fee attaching thereto is a different matter. Truly, the man without a Will is like the man who casts his life earnings into the sea before his exit. It is only on board games that it should be a gamble to die. In real life, you want to reasonably predict that your dependents are well-off in your absence. Sadly, even the most strong-willed are bent at death; and their best wishes become subject to the whims of the living. Friends become foes and households get locked in the sort of battles that suggest that life all along was a long and patient wait for the benefactor’s exit.
My neighbour, an Estate Surveyor, is violently opposed to Wills. And whenever we argue, he has ready statistics of Will-driven-strife to beat me hands down. He often says that at best, he would present his family and friends with deeds of gift which would only become effective upon his death. His “Will” would then contain only a list of the beneficiaries and the corresponding gifts he had given them, such that anyone who does not produce proof of his gift is automatically disinherited. Thus, that way he would limit allegations of falsehood and counter positioning, and the harmony of his household will be preserved.
As simplistic as this sounded, I see some sense in it. The only troubling issue being that once you give people such gifts in advance; you would steadily lose your hold on them. It is best to drag the suspense to the last possible moment. I still marvel at the ingenuity of the old man, Okorie in James Ene-Henshaw’s Play, Jewels of the Shrine. I would want something like that. Get the family worshipful of me while dropping subtle hints that they would be richly rewarded. It will be a clear case of “let thy will be done, sir”. And at the end, I would do my wish; far beyond the reach of their wrath.
Having said this, I hope the great Ikemba continues to rest in peace!
3. THE TROUBLE WITH NIGERIA…ARE ITS CIVIL SERVANTS
“Ours is a nation of waste and duplicity in Governance!” The private sector scoffs. The next minute however; they fall over themselves trying to gamble on candidates likely to guarantee favourable policies. They organise dinners and Fund raising events with monstrous Table tags. But whenever the ugliness of government rears up, they scoff and distance themselves from it all. They beat their chests in tales of their long, consistent toils before attaining Eldorado; as opposed to these overnight millionaires who never put in an honest day’s work.
It is quite laughable how self-righteous we all become in condemning the government structure: The heavy handed CEO; The Principal who pushes stale crumbs to junior lawyers; the Marketing supervisor who slave-drives Nigerian graduates, etc. etc. They unite in condemning the unbalanced wealth distribution and luxurious lifestyles of our rulers.
I once read somewhere that one should be cautious with politicians, but terrified of business-men. Funny, but remotely true. Politicians attempt a show of patriotism; but business-men do not hide their projected outcomes: money, and more money.
Meanwhile, the poor clerical staff who watches it all helplessly, is singled out; and must be sacrificed before the proper balance is struck. The nation’s growth is stifled because of his salaries and entitlements. If he is sacked, the country will save more money and add to the growing projects which will in turn generate mass employment and he will be reabsorbed; preferably into the private sector (to be vigorously squeezed in creating more entrepreneurial billionaires); thus, freeing more funds for the top-level public officials to deal with in moving the country forward.
It is that logical, really. How come nobody thought of this earlier?
Also published on Thisday Newspaper, Tuesday December 11, 2012