Opinion and Analysis

The hidden cost of piracy in Africa

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The average Nollywood film costs $1.08 per movie sold on DVD but a Hollywood film costs only 79 cents. Photo/FILE

The average Nollywood film costs $1.08 per movie sold on DVD but a Hollywood film costs only 79 cents. Photo/FILE 

By Alec van Gelder and Mark Schultz

Posted  Monday, November 23   2009 at  00:00

Africa’s creative industries could be a great success story but they are held back by weak copyright protection.


While the wealthiest Western creators often shout loudest, it is the poorest African entrepreneurs who suffer most.

In some important ways, copyright piracy makes it more expensive to make a typical African film than a Hollywood blockbuster.

Piracy makes it harder for film-makers and musicians in developing countries to recover their costs than for their counterparts in Hollywood or Nashville.

Where piracy is high (up to 90 per cent in much of West Africa), a musician or movie producer has precious little time to recover the original investment before the rip-offs move in and make it impossible to compete.

No African country has piracy levels below about 25 per cent of the market.

Nollywood film

For example, the typical Nollywood film budget is around $25,000.

The most expensive Nigerian production ever, Close Enemies, was $300,000 but this was produced in Los Angeles and distributed globally.

Legitimate sales for a typical local production are estimated to be around 30,000, with every copy pressed costing an additional 25 cents.

The average Nollywood film, which enjoys far less success than Close Enemies, thus costs $1.08 per movie sold on DVD.

At the other end of the global film industry, the 2007 Hollywood blockbuster “Transformers” had a $150 million budget.

But thanks to high sales its average disc costs were less than the typical Nollywood production: only 79 cents.

It’s a hard world when your low-budget production cannot even compete on cost with the Hollywood blockbuster.

But could Nollywood really do any better, with a smaller audience with lower average incomes? Sure it could.

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