Liberia: Gov’t Cracks Down on Piracy, Closes 10 Businesses

An inspector of the Liberia Intellectual Property Office in one of the stores that were closed down for pirating copyright-protected materials. Behind the inspector is disc duplicators, devices that are used to make thousands of copies of CDs and DVDs for sale. In his hand, a pirated disc of 10 - in- 1.

--- Those businesses were found to be in breach of Liberia’s 2014 copyright laws and regulations on the sales, rental, and reproduction of copyright works and related works. 

The Liberia Intellectual Property Office (LIPO) and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) have shut down ten businesses involved in the illegal sale of copyrighted materials, which is costing the country to lose millions of Liberian dollars in revenue, plus royalties to the original creators of the content sold.

The businesses, which are owned by foreigners, mostly Nigerians, were found to be in breach of the country’s 2014 copyright laws and regulations on the sales, rental, and reproduction of copyright works and related works — with spiraling networks and connections across Liberia. These foreigners are most often caught operating in a sophisticated and user-friendly environment in which all kinds of pirated media goods that should be protected by copyright are sold.

“Intellectual property theft is a serious problem in Liberia and it hurts the local economy,” the Executive Director of the Copyright Society of Liberia in a statement said.  “To be effective, we crack down hard on piracy and pirates. “Commercial-scale copyright piracy is causing significant financial losses for Liberia’s rights holders and legitimate businesses, undermining the country's version of having competitive artistic industries that would spur growth.  

“This raid and others are meant to drastically change the situation, to drive innovation and investment in the artistic industry.” The action by the Ministry and LIPO resulted in the seizure of computers, which served as storage and distribution hubs, containing thousands of copies of pirated material, and disc duplicators, devices that are used to make thousands of copies of CDs and DVDs for sale.

However, the estimated value of the seized material is unknown and no arrests have been announced yet.   Currently, Liberia is losing more than US$4 million to intellectual property violations every year, with some estimates putting it at up to about US$10 million, according to data by the Copyright Society of Liberia and the Liberia Intellectual Property Office (LIPO)

But LIPO and MOCI have of late begun shutting down businesses involved in the illegal sale of DVDs and CDs containing local and international creative works — especially movies, music — and setting up measures to ensure compliance. 

Some arrests were made, especially those who resisted the closure of their businesses — to clear the black market and establish a structure for a regime that will see content creators finally begin to benefit from their creative works.  

Meanwhile, the government has disclosed that the search, seizure, and closure exercises were meant to ensure that the owners of these businesses fall in compliance with the laws that govern the sale of copyrighted materials. 

The exercise, according to MoCI and LIPO, is the culmination of months of undercover investigations conducted simultaneously by both institutions to end the broad-day stealing of copyright-protected workers, which has affected the government economically and the creators.

The MoCI and LIPO noted that based on available statistics, only three businesses engaged in the sale of discs and related products are legally registered in the country. The rest have no trace of compliance.

“The affected entities are to appear for the conference before a joint team of inspectors from LIPO and the Ministry to provide evidence of how they have been carrying out their operations in the country,” a release from the Ministry of Commerce said. “If the conference does not reach a conclusion, all the business owners that were caught in violation will be processed to court. Liberia’s Intellectual Property regulations have zero tolerance for the use of burning (duplication) machines in the country.”

The MoCI and LIPO's latest move came after nearly four-month shutting down businesses caught selling pirate intellectual property works. By then in April, the affected businesses were ten, and only one of the owners was a Liberian citizen. The rest were Nigerian nationals. Some also claimed to be pastors or technicians of one kind or another. 

One of the alleged violators had leased an entire floor of a building in central Monrovia and set up a massive disc-duplication operation, from which he regularly supplied his colleagues with virtually any kind of movie they wanted. On the wall, the man had several satellite TV setups, with movies downloading as they played in real-time.