In the United States, for example, educational warnings formed part of the Copyright Alerts program, but with that having fallen by the wayside, fines (aka settlement demands) are the most common form of punishment. People can still be taken to court though, and with statutory damages of $150,000 per title on the table, things can get hairy pretty quickly.
On the whole, jail sentences are uncommon and are usually saved for the more serious offenders, such as site operators and release groups. On the rare occasions, a custodial is handed out, they tend to be measured in months and years, not days and weeks. Over in Nigeria, it appears things are done a little differently.
Following a complaint from the local Hausa Film Makers Association, 18 people were arrested under suspicion of online piracy of so-called Kannywood films, movies produced by the Hausa-language film industry based in the north of the country.
The Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), a paramilitary agency of the Nigerian government, took care of the prosecution. The accused appeared in court last week charged with unlawfully downloading and sharing the movies. According to a report from The Nation, things escalated quickly.
“When the one-count charge of piracy was read to them, they all pleaded guilty,” said Ibrahim Idris of the NSCDC.
“The Chief Magistrate, Sanusi Usman, thereafter sentenced them to 45 days imprisonment or to pay a fine of N12,000 each.”
While the $40 fine might be an option for some, any period in jail for sharing a movie seems particularly harsh, particularly in Nigeria, a country that places no priority on burglary offenses and chooses not to enforce its own traffic laws.
The United States classifies the country as having a “critical” crime rate so why piracy receives any attention isn’t clear, despite the country’s reported “zero tolerance” stance. There might, however, be a little clue in the way the Internet pirates were charged.
“The convicts were accused of downloading and sending of Hausa films, an act that contravenes a section of Kano State Censorship Board laws 2001,” Idris says.
Nigeria’s Censorship Board takes its responsibilities seriously, and while it appears to have responded to complaints of Internet piracy from an industry group, other areas of law may have come into play.
“The primary responsibility of the board is to filter any viewable, audible, or readable material produced by the mass media, or via the internet or performed on the stage,” the Board says in its mission statement.
“It is the duty of the board to censor such materials before they are released for public consumption; educate the stakeholders and the general public; and to prosecute the defaulters.”
When one begins to grasp the level of control commanded by the Board, it becomes clear that file-sharing networks are almost completely incompatible with its mission. It regularly bans songs and forbids their downloading so little surprise that when it suits the authorities, the big guns can be brought out to deal with the information-spreading public.
“The cheapest way of corrupting our cultural base is through the use of tools of mass media namely, the internet, television, adverts, movies, other cinematographs and through assorted literary works,” the Board explains.
“These tools of mass mind control and corruption are targeted on the youths of our developing countries on whose shoulders lie the future of this generation and yet unborn ones.”
The claims that pirates in the United States are merely destroying the film industry clearly pale in comparison…..