Piracy drives film makers out of African markets

Wed Mar 4, 2009 8:42am EST
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By Katrina Manson

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Movie and TV piracy in Africa is so rampant that some production houses are refusing to distribute in their home countries, preferring to sell their shows only to diaspora Africans in better regulated markets.

Thus West Africans in Paris lap up plotlines thick with polygamy, sorcery and secret love potions set in a claustrophobic courtyard in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan, while their relatives back home miss out.

"We noticed there is a huge market for TV sitcoms but it was mostly from Nigeria, the U.S. or Brazil. We wanted to make shows for our own public instead," said producer Raybis Xavier, 30, whose Studio 225 has already produced 19 films in Ivory Coast.

"But there is so much piracy in Ivory Coast we decided not to release any DVDs there. Instead we will sell it in Europe and via Internet downloads," he told Reuters.

Under a deal signed last December, Africa's large diaspora population in France, Belgium and Switzerland can now buy episodes of Xavier's Abidjan sitcom "La Cour Commune" at local Virgin Megastores for 15 euros ($19) apiece. Further deals are under negotiation in Britain, the United States and China.

A shift by budget-conscious African production houses to cheaper digital technology has unleashed a wave of piracy that threatens to topple the industry: unlike traditional 35 millimeter film, DVDs are cheap, easy and quick to replicate.

"It's a terrible thing -- the artists lose money, the state loses money, and finally the value of our culture is put at risk," said Hema Djakaria, director general of national cinematography in Ivory Coast's northern neighbor Burkina Faso.

Burkina is hosting FESPACO African film festival this week, with over 300 screenings of films, sitcoms and other shows.   Continued...

<p>A Mr. Bean DVD is seen among some of the R25 million worth of pirated DVD's and CD's that were destroyed by authorities in Midrand ,February 19 ,2009. Some local artists came to witness the pirated copies of their own work being crushed. Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko</p>