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Piracy drives TV, film producers out of African markets

March 08, 2009|Katrina Manson | Manson writes for Reuters.

OUAGADOUGOU, BURKINA FASO — 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 plot lines 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 $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.

The nation is hosting the FESPACO African film festival this month, with more than 300 screenings of films, sitcoms and other shows.

"We're battling hard but the pirates are stronger than the authorities," said Djakaria, who estimates 80% of DVDs on sale here are fakes.

Pirated discs can pack in several films for $1.35, compared with $11.50 for the real thing.

"Before it even went out on TV here for the first time, one series had already been pirated -- downloaded in Paris and sold on the streets here," said Djakaria, referring to "Quand les elephants se battent" ("When Elephants Fight"), set in Burkina Faso.

Unlike many countries on the continent, Burkina Faso has a bureau dedicated to combating the arts black market.

In a mark of how developed the industry is, vendors here in the country's capital go to Togo and Nigeria to source their products -- even those originally produced in Burkina Faso -- dodging customs and police.

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