Introduction
The software industry is a multi-billion naira industry. But as Information Technology (IT) continues to grow in Nigeria since 1999 when IT policies were adopted, there has also been a rise in software piracy. This has resulted in great economic loss to Nigeria, just as it is being experienced globally.

According to Business Software Alliance’s (BSA) latest finding, an increase in the use of genuine software by 1% contributes $73 billion to the global economy. Interestingly, this is significantly higher than the $20 billion from pirated software. With a whopping difference of $53 billion, what the industry is losing is quite high.

What Software Piracy Means:
Software is defined in the Oxford Dictionary of Law as computer programmes that are protected by copyright. The BSA describes software piracy as the unauthorised copying or distribution of copyrighted software. This can be done by copying, downloading, sharing, selling, or installing multiple copies onto personal or work computers. When a consumer purchases software, he or she is purchasing a license to use it, not the actual software. Such licence authorises its use. It is that license that provides controls and regulate the use of the software right from installation. Making more copies of the software than the license permits amounts to piracy. Software piracy is the unauthorised use and distribution of software.

So far, the fight against software piracy is yet to yield the expected result. If the regulators and stakeholders are able to curb software piracy, this will greatly impact on economic growth. Some of the benefits of curbing the unhealthy criminal act include increased job creation, improved business opportunities, better innovation, tax revenues and safety. These benefits have multiplier effects on the economy. But in an industry where software piracy thrives, there is increased insecurity, lack of innovation and enterprise, and unemployment.

Curbing Software Piracy in Nigeria:
How to curb software piracy in Nigeria was the focus of the recent 5th roundtable of the anti-counterfeiting collaboration of Nigeria (ACC) held in Lagos early in the year. The Head, Corporate Affairs, Microsoft Anglophone West Africa, Ijeoma Abazie had on this occasion identified the benefits of curbing software piracy to include increased jobs, tax revenues and safety as opposed to the dangers associated with software piracy. Such dangers include funding global terrorism, undermining online stability and security by putting consumers’ data and security at risk.

Being an umbrella body for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) legalisation and related issues in Nigeria, the ACC is constituted by stakeholders across all sectors. Its membership includes the Intellectual Property Lawyers Association of Nigeria (IPLAN).

The Economic Cost of Software Piracy:
Owing to software piracy and its attendant risks of insecurity, IDC statistics show that consumers globally will spend 1.5 billion hours and $22 billion identifying and recovering from the impact of malware. Also, businesses all over the world will be spending $114 billion to deal with the effects of malware-induced cyber-attacks”.

Generally, piracy/counterfeiting cuts across various sectors and industries. Its negative impacts affect many industries including entertainment, IP/software, education, pharmaceuticals, textiles, and dairy.

Transnational lack of borders of the internet:
In a global village, the borderless internet also contributes negatively to the fight against software piracy. Unauthorised or unlawful copying and distribution of pirated products and services are easily done online. Such infringements occur every minute. And at a global scale too. There are no mechanisms for adequate protection against such infringements mainly because the legal framework is lacking or completely non-existent as it is the case with Nigeria today. Again, evven where there are laws that may apply generally, enforcement is almost impossible since it is difficult ascertaining the place the infringement occurred. Is the place the infringer’s computer or mobile phone, the server or the country he is located?

Recommendation:

Use of Original Software in Government Establishments:
As also recommended by Ijeoma Abazie above, the Government will need to play a leadership model role by using legal software in its public corporations and enterprises, ministries and parastatals. The use of original software should also be made a precondition for contracts with the government for all contractors and suppliers. This action will go a long way in helping to discourage software piracy since the lack of demand for it by the users will eventually kill the piracy businesses, merchants and investors.

A Multi-Stakeholder Approach through PPP:
Apart from the government, the private sector also has a major role to play. A PPP (Public-Private Partnership) is needed to adopt a comprehensive strategy for the protection of software products and software owners and licensees. Of course, our law enforcement agencies such as the Nigerian Police, the Nigerian Customs Service, and the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) must work together to prevent the importation and distribution of pirated/counterfeit software in Nigeria.

Legal Reforms in the Aspect of Intellectual Property Protection in Nigeria:
And in the aspect of providing a more responsive legal regime against software piracy, there is need for our IP Laws to be reformed. The Nigerian Copyright Act 1988 is not for the 21st century, and cannot protect interests of intellectual property rights owners in the current information age. Although the Act defines literary work to include software, it needs to provide more adequately against new forms of piracy through the use of more advanced internet technologies. Online piracy is one serious problem.

Still on legal forms, the Cyber Security Bill and other related Bills need to be passed into law by the National Assembly to further strengthen the legal protection that is required to enforce IP rights in Nigeria, whether online or offline.

Hopefully, the “…bill for an Act to amend the Copyright Act CAP C28 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 for the purpose of making provisions for safeguard of technological measures used in protecting Copyright Act and for other related matters” now before the National Assembly will see the light of day.
There has also been plans to work on a proposed Industrial Property Commission of Nigeria (IPCOM) Bill. At the ACC roundtable earlier referred, it was agreed that drafting and enacting an IP Bill for Nigeria had become an urgent need. I also believe so. Such bill will help Nigerian intellectual property law meet the required standards in terms of international best practice in technological developments and legal protection.

Increase Public Awareness on Software Piracy:
There is need for need for increased public awareness on the dangers of software piracy. Most infringements in Nigeria are informed by both lack of awareness of the serious criminal implications, while others just believe that software is inherently a “freebie”, unlike hardware.

Pirated software dealers must be made to face serious punishments for contravening the law. Their criminal acts have continued to put people’s livelihoods as well as the economy of the country at great risk. In this way, the worsening unemployment woes in Nigeria can reduce significantly if the high incidence of software piracy in the country can be curbed.

The Need to Encourage Domestic Software Development:
The software industry is a multi-billion naira industry. Nigeria can benefit greatly from developing its own domestic software to provide for both local and export markets.

The current domination of foreign software is not very healthy for local innovation and enterprise. The government would need to create the conducive environment to encouraging private sector software development locally. The current rate of piracy in Nigeria can be reduced where the domestic market can have access to more affordable local software that equally meet international standards. Hopefully, the National Information Communication Technology (ICT) Draft Policy where domestic software development is one of the policies of the government would be adopted.

About the author

Nigerian Law Today

NLT’s mission is to take legal-content writing to the next level in Nigeria by leveraging legal expertise and technology. We publish fresh, original, and insightful articles on areas of law we cover.

Leave a Comment

43 Comments

  • I have four thoughts on this subject matter.

    1. Apart from being liable to criminal prosecution as and when applicable, the end users of unlicensed software applications must be aware that hackers exploit the user's greed for 'freebies' to compromise the security of their systems and devices. Malicious codes can easily be laced into original programs and then…; you know what. So it's better to spend a few naira than to risk sensitive data being phished by unintended persons.

    2. A trend I have noticed with software developers in recent times is something called 'license checking'. By implementing this, the application is forced to report it's licence status upon being launched by the user. Where it is discovered that a particular application (hacked of course) does not have a valid licence, the user sometimes gets a persistent message requesting for a valid licence or risk loss of data or functionality. This in its own way can help developers reap the fruit of their labour as we begin to see more of these internet-dependent applications. One less disincentive to use unlicensed apps!

    3. Stakeholders in the ICT sector need to remain vocal on the need for local legislation to keep pace with the rapid growth in the sector. Being vocal here includes assisting our legislators in understanding what's happening in the sector and formulating bills to aid better coordination in the sector.

    4. Technically, when you pay for subscription based apps, you are essentially buying a licence for the stated period. Same applies to situations where an application is designed to be installed on specific number of systems. Common to the above examples is that the user(s) gets less rights over the use of the application compared to an outright sale. So in some cases a user can be purchasing more than just a licence to a software.

  • Thanks for your contribution, Ebimobowei. Your thoughts on software piracy, and how it can be addressed are appreciated. First, one of the problems is that most end users of unlicensed software
    applications, particularly in Nigeria, are not aware the risk of their sensitive data being phished whenever they get some of these "freebies". That's why we still need a lot of awareness, and stakeholders can drive it.

    Second, I think 'license checking' works just fine. It's one of the innovative solutions to the menace of software piracy. The only challenge has been that those who knowingly buy pirated software are ready to dump them if the notice for licence checking or validation ever crops up! But at least such validation will help innocent end users realise eventually that they have bought pirated software.

    Also, with Public-Private Partnership (PPP) becoming the means to address issues such as this one, I agree with you that stakeholders need to push the solutions and innovations to assisting our legislators in providing the needed legal framework. It's good to see bodies such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Collaboration of Nigeria (ACC) and the Intellectual Property Lawyers Association of Nigeria (IPLAN) have started doing just that.

    On your final thought, I think I like the idea of software being licences than outright sales. Such licenses allow the software owner or manufacturer retain certain rights over products. Usually, this helps to ensure software maintenance, and protection. This can also help control software piracy.