RIGHTSView: Cyber plagiarism as a national pastime

Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 6 December 2014 | 3,148 times

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In the Wednesday December 3, 2014 edition of The Guardian newspaper of Nigeria, the editorial team headed by the cerebral editor, Mr. Martins Oloja, did an epic article on the underground battles, and undercurrents brewing in the political firmament of Lagos State, between a political godfather – Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his political godson – Alhaji Babatunde Raji Fashola, which centred around the successor to the juicy office of Governor of Lagos State, come 2015.

In that cover article, The Guardian beautifully depicted, in graphic pictorial form, the apparent squabble between the duo concerning who should have the upper hand in selecting and anointing the successor, who would take office on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) come 2015, when the incumbent is expected to round up his eight-year tenure.   

Ordinarily, commentators and users of the popular social media are expected to be intellectually inclined and, therefore, should know and venerate the sanctity of the law which frowns at plagiarism. But the cyber crime of plagiarism does not appear to be a big worry for a lot of Nigerian users of the social media, particularly students who regularly steal other hard-working people’s literary works and use as if they are the original owners.

The fact that the Nigerian municipal laws and legal jurisprudence have clear and unambiguous provisions governing the issues of intellectual copyright, is enough to frighten students and users of the social media to desist from breaching those sacred codes. But in our country, impunity has become a big ghost that has invaded virtually all aspects of our lives. This is because the ease with which users of the social media breach copyright laws in Nigeria is amazing.  

The graphics used in the earlier mentioned story of the political battles in Lagos by The Guardian was lifted by several local users of the online media without any deliberate effort to give proper credit to the copyright owners of that beautiful artistic impression.

On noticing that one of my Facebook friends has copied this graphic photo of The Guardian without according proper credit, I called his attention to this gross violation but he, nevertheless, continued to commit the breach. Because he is aware that even though Nigeria is said to have a full-fledged Federal Commission that monitors copyright violations, but due to dereliction of duty by these officials, plagiarism has become a national pastime.

Year in year out, young students simply move from one university library to the other in search of project theses to dub and steal and convert as theirs, to enable them secure the requirements for the award of bachelor’s degree qualifications in their universities. There is no form of quality control by these schools, who keep churning out hundreds of thousands of half-baked graduates.

The undergraduates have embraced plagiarism as a game because they are aware that some bad lecturers have had to copy verbatim other peoples’ works, to enable them become professors in their various fields of study. Yet, the National Universities Commission (NUC) is busy awarding licences to rich elites to establish new private universities, and has no time to set up and run an efficient mechanism for detecting all these academic fraudulent practices that are watering down the value of our educational system. Only very few bad lecturers in Nigeria have had their professorial licences withdrawn as a consequence of their being caught committing these severe cyber crime of plagiarism and intellectual heist.

The severity of plagiarism in the local online industry came to the fore recently when a young, but immensely popular blogger, Miss Linda Ikeji, was allegedly indicted by the global online chieftain – Google - for plagiarism. Her blog was shut down, but later got pardoned, when she reportedly pulled out the plagiarised piece off her blog.

Omotola Filani, writing for Daily Post, an online news portal, reported that Linda Ikeji was accused by a number of people of constantly plagiarising and lifting articles from websites, without giving credit to original sources.

The action, according to the reporter, sparked off lots of controversies: many of her fans took to the various social media pages to lament and blame ‘witches’ and ‘haters’ for the tragedy.

Clearing the air on the misconception, this reporter quoted the Google’s Manager for Communications and Public Affairs, Anglophone West Africa, Taiwo Kolade-Ogunlade, as stating in a chat with The PUNCH Newspaper that Linda Ikeji’s blog was taken down for alleged copyright breaches.

He said Google takes the issue of copyright seriously, adding that the company belongs to a group of Internet firms that abides by the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and other applicable copyright laws:

“To respect the rights of copyright holders, Google clearly spells out how users of its products and services can get permission to use someone else’s intellectual property, such as text, songs, images and footages. Google is no respecter of anybody when it comes to the issues of copyright infringement.

“Google, as an organisation, takes issues of copyright seriously; and belongs to a group of digital companies that respect copyrights. Copyright is a big deal and this is why you can’t just go and pick up another person’s intellectual property or content and lay claim to its ownership.

“It is not a case of witch-hunting, and has nothing to do with Linda Ikeji’s personality or anyone else, because there is a process, and irrespective of who you are in the world, that process would apply to you.”

The Google’s top management staff was also quoted to have affirmed that it has become imperative for online entrepreneurs to respect the rights of copyright holders noting that the Internet community should be built on mutual trust and general respect.

“Let’s respect other people’s rights and intellectual property. Making money off other people’s content without permission is wrong. Although the Internet is inanimate, it is the content on it that gives it life. These are the issues. Whenever owners of online contents come after you accusing you of using their content, it is because they have families to feed and businesses to sustain.”

One of the finest contemporary theologians in Nigeria, Rev Father George Ehusani, is known for defending the sanctity of compliance with the intellectual standards and practice of giving due credits to the original owners of any thoughts and creativity.

Dr Ehusani spoke about the topic of goodness and the challenge of evil. One thing that struck me from what he said is that violation of copyright law is evil.

His words: “In Christian thought, there is what is termed the summum bonum, a Latin coinage, which means the ultimate good. And human beings were created to seek and pursue the ultimate good.”

Our elementary Catechism, he said, discusses the ultimate good when it asks: Who made you? Why did God make you?

According to Dr Ehusani, the ultimate good is linked to the question of purpose and meaning, because: “If our scientific, artistic and humanistic enterprises are aimed at fulfilling the purpose for which we came into this world, then they are good. If on the other hand any particular human enterprise deviates from or frustrates our journey towards the ultimate good, then it is bad. It is our ultimate good to go through this life seeking God, loving Him, and ending up being united with Him in what is called the beatific vision – that is, the joy of heaven. This is the ultimate good, according to the Christian worldview.”

Professors D.A. Guobadia and Epiphany Azinge (SAN), both of who became directors-general of Nigeria’s best known postgraduate law faculty – Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, in a book titled Globalisation, National Development and the Law, also alluded to the significance and intellectual import of respecting copyright or anti-plagiarism laws.

Under the topic: The Right to Culture and the Protection of Cultural Property, these erudite scholars argued: “Culture has three levels - ideological, material and behavioural.

''It is a complex of value, behaviour patterns and institutions of a human group shared and transmitted socially. It incorporates all creations of man, cosmogenics, ways of thinking, value systems, religion, customs, symbols, myths. At the material level, culture includes technology, methods of production, systems of exchange and social institutions. Thus, culture goes beyond indigenous tradition and customary practices (to which it has been reduced by many ‘traditionalists’) to include: political, religious, ideological and institutional structures. For contemporary Africa, therefore, the interpretation of culture must have a developmental content, as ‘development’ is a comprehensive economic, social and political process.”

These fine legal minds affirmed that the tendency in international and some regional treaties, is for the right to culture to be stifled in a cacophony of a triple-barrelled “economic, social and cultural” rights matrix.

What should be the governing international treaty on the right to culture? They asked and affirmed that the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) devotes only a few scanty articles to culture, thus: Article 15 (1). Every person has a right:

(a) To take part in cultural life

(b) enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications

(c) to benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author

(d) conserve, develop and diffuse science and culture

(e) …cooperate in the scientific and cultural fields.

In the fifth schedule of the transition and savings provision, Copyright Act, Chapter 68 of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990, the following shall be eligible for copyright: literary works, musical works, artistic works, cinematograph works, sound recording and broadcasts.

So it is not as if Nigeria is deficient of the legal provisions to guard against wanton copyright breaches, but what is lacking is the political will on the part of the officials of the Nigerian Copyright Commission to monitor the rules governing copyright compliance.

Across board, there is currently a regime of impunity, which ensures that even top government officials breach the copyright provisions and the accused often go unpunished. Few months back, a Nigerian-born but United States-based Professor accused the then Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (now Emir of Kano) of alleged plagiarism, and filed a matter in the Federal High Court, Abuja division. But this matter was eventually discontinued when both parties reportedly struck an accord.

As a nation that confronts the challenges of technological under-development, we must put in place effective enforcement framework to govern copyright laws and make sure that offenders are brought before competent courts of law to be sanctioned.

The National Universities Commission should, as a matter of urgency, put in place verifiable and concrete measures for filtering plagiarised scholarly works, so that offenders are not allowed to reap where they did not sow.

The universities on their own must have effective monitoring mechanisms for fishing out copyright violators among their students and teachers, as one way of rebuilding our fast declining educational standards.

Sorting and financial racketeering by lecturers must be checked, and all those involved prosecuted by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Allied Offences Commission (ICPC).

The Nigerian Communication Commission must jointly partner with the Copyright Commission to enforce provisions protecting real owners of intellectual property from the dare-devil activities of cyber criminals and terrorists.

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source: News Express

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