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Least We Keep Overlooking Art Thievery

(From Left: fake work by an unknown Memories of Young Days (original) by Aliki)
Reproducing other people’s idea or creativity without their permission (plagiarism), no doubt is a global problem. In more developed countries, offenders are made to pay for their crime but the case is the reverse in Nigeria even though this is killing the creative industry. Udemma Chukwuma reports. 
Port Harcourt based artist, Diseye Tantua, recently walked into an exhibition hall only for him to find the exact painting he made in 2011; a copied work of his on view. In shock, he wondered if “artists are recycling ideas, studying colours or in a hurry to make money from art.”
In the visual art circle some call plagiarism ‘post-modernism’, while the lay term is copy and paste. Intellectual property thievery, such as artwork, also known as plagiarism, piracy for the film and literary works, is crippling the Nigerian creative industry, according to research.
“Are we in art for the long haul or is it a get rich on the fast track?” Tantua wrote on his Facebook wall. On the wall he posted the original painting and the copied piece and this generated a lot of comments.
Even though it is an offence to copy someone else’s work for any reason but for research purposes and with permission of the original owner, people still throw caution to the wind and engage in the 
Tolu Aliki, who has also fallen victim to plagiarism, is not surprised that people copy his work. “That happens all the time,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do. People that are close to me have done worse. My works look very simple but very difficult to make an exact copy. But I believe my brand is strong. All strong brands always have people copying them.”
Unlike Tantua, Aliki knows some of those duplicating his works, yet he chooses to do nothing about it. He alleges that a particular artist had copied many of his works but he won’t name him.
Why? “I want peace. People will say maybe he’s inspired by my works. That’s what people will say at end of the day. The guy is just wasting his time and energy. People will always know the difference. There can be only one Aliki at the end of the day.”
Photographer, Uche James Iroha, said photographers are not left out in this. Commenting on Tantua’s post on Facebook he said the major problem in the art sector in Nigeria is lack of platforms whether infrastructural or social.
“But I always reiterate that integrity is the most important ingredient. The issue gets hazier if you look at new medium like photography. Cultural terrorists have mass-produced and sold artists’ work straight from a soft copy they have submitted for catalogue production and publicity purposes. Art is the uncharted landscape where everyone is at survival frontline. We have made the grievous mistake of launching survival far ahead of passion and purpose. This artistic insurgence will not stop until something precisely needful happens. I believe we are approaching it.”
Oliver Enwonwu, the President of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) has this to say about plagiarism: “Today, there’s a thin line between original and copied work. Many are of the opinion that no idea is truly original and that works of art that can be deemed original may have been appropriated from existing ones. Indeed, today appropriation is generally accepted by scholars and collectors alike as a valid means of creating art. However, I bring obvious cases of plagiarism to the public sphere and I am always happy to speak on issues of copyright at various fora.”
What gave rise to this? “A lot of factors could be deduced as the reason for this proliferation of thievery,” remarked, Charles Okereke, on Tantua’s Facebook post. “In the first place is hunger and despair, seconded by the get rich quick or die trying mentality and the third is the literacy level of the nation and its systems.”
Josiah C. Josiah is of the opinion that people practice plagiarism because they lack visions and ideas. “To me if you love an artist’s works or style, it’s not bad to build yours from his. Trying to copy his style makes you dumb but studying his style to build yours makes you wise. And truth be told, our institutions are also part of the crusaders of this act of plagiarism yes! When you offer mass admission to students who have no single interest in art just because you need their money, they become naïve. Most of them graduate without nothing in their brain not because they are dumb no but because that’s not where they belong. It’s a pity!”
In Enwonwu’s view plagiarism is one of the side effects of a rapidly expanding art sector. “In the last few years, there have been world class exhibitions by leading local galleries accompanied with exquisite catalogues. The advent of auction houses with staggering prices for Nigerian art has ensured that artists can earn more value for their work. The downside of this development is that weaker artists are often tempted to copy the works of their more established peers to not only gain quick recognition but to also benefit from increased sales.
“In the academia, plagiarism is also commonplace owing to increasing pressure to publish articles in order to ensure promotion at work. The results are often poorly researched articles that do little to improve the society.
(From Left: original by Tantua and fake by an unknown artist)
Aside this, fingers are also pointing at the collectors, art dealers and majority are blaming the academic lecturers who encourage students to study and copy the works of masters as an assignment.

“We got it wrong from the foundation, the art schools need to enrich their curriculum (half of what a practicing professional artist needs to know is not taught).
“Each time I see copies of another artist’s work, it reminds me of a fashion programme: ‘Who Wore It Best?’ To copy has become a trend! See how far and fast we are falling and failing the generation coming,” Tantua said.
Aliki agreed that most of the people plagiarising the work of others “are young artists…they know not what they do.”
Can artists register their works with the Copyright Commission (NCC)? If yes, how many artists register their work(s) with the commission? “One can get a copyright. But I don’t think I have the time to run after some silly copyist so far the person didn’t sign Aliki on the work,” said the painter.”
You would be wondering how plagiarists have access to a work an artist produced in the private of his studio? It this era of camera phone and mobile devices, anything is possible. It was confirmed that some people attend exhibitions with cameras or phones and pretend to be making a call or taking selfies and take the image of the work and go back to reproduce the work.
Should copy copy of intellectual properties continue to reign because artist like Aliki wants peace? Shouldn’t offenders be punished?

“The charge of plagiarism is a serious one for all writers and researchers on art. Plagiarists are often seen as incompetent and incapable of developing and expressing their own thoughts and ideas. They are also perceived as dishonest and willing to deceive others for personal gain. Students who plagiarise may suffer severe penalties, ranging from failure in the assignment or expulsion from school,” asserted Enwonwu.

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