Following an unprecedented raid conducted by the police in New York last week, makers and marketers of counterfeited and pirated copies of Nigerian movies are now to be arrested and tried in the United States city.
Although the law enforcement activity is limited for now to Brooklyn, popularly called ‘Kings Country,’ a local government county in New York City the effort is intended to send a warning to all other parts of the city, state and elsewhere where the sale of illegal Nollywood movies have become entrenched in the U.S.
Spokesperson for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office Jonah Bruno, told The Guardian that New York Police is planning to make further arrests and ensure that those detained as suspects are tried to the full extent of the law.
The suspects, some of whom may include Nigerians and Americans, will be charged with such crimes as trademark counterfeiting and forgery and could receive sentences of up to seven years in prison.
Bruno said: “Police investigators are trying to determine who and who will be prosecuted,” waiving off any concerns that persons operating the stalls raided may return if arrests are not made.
According to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s spokesperson, “there has been no arrest made yet, we are investigating, going over financial records and computer records.” Bruno added that once that phase of the investigations is concluded, then arrests would be carried out.
The Brooklyn authorities, he said, are serious about the investigations, especially with the loss of potential sales tax to both New York City and state authorities.
The problem of illegal sale of Nollywood movies has become so prominent in New York City notably in Brooklyn and Queens Boroughs, which are local government county divisions of the city. In all, there are five boroughs in New York City, the three others being Manhattan, Staten Island and Bronx counties.
Bruno confirmed that nine stores in Brooklyn were identified by the New York City detectives as places selling illegal Nollywood movies and all of them were raided last week resulting in the seizure of over 10,000 Nollywood movies including very recent ones like Material Girl, Mind Games, Governor’s Gift and Stolen Will. DVD making equipment were also seized.
The spokesperson also confirmed that the producers of Nollywood films in New York had contacted the authorities and filed complaints, which led to the investigations and the subsequent raid and sting operation last week. Said he, “Nollywood contacted us and we followed up on it.”
He further disclosed that the sting operation represented the second phase of the investigations into the illegal sale of Nollywood movies in New York City.
In an earlier statement, the Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes announced the “investigation into the counterfeiting and illegal sale of movies from the Nigerian film industry, or ‘Nollywood.’ KCDA Detective Investigators recovered more than 10,000 counterfeit DVDs earlier this week.
Quoting Hynes, the statement described the shop owners and sellers of illegal Nollywood movies as “villains” for peddling “pirated DVDs, a crime that is tantamount to outright theft.”
The District Attorney stated that the “sale of bootleg and counterfeit goods deprives the city and state of New York of millions of dollars in sales tax revenue, at a time when we all need it most, and it deprives the artists who made the movies of their well-deserved proceeds.”
The statement also quoted Mr. Tony Abulu, a U.S.-based Nigerian and the President of Filmmakers Association of Nigeria, USA, as saying “the African film industry in the United States is a veritable revenue generator for Africa, and the infringement of copyrighted African films in the U.S. will not be tolerated.”
Other interest groups that have been of help in the effort to stop the illegal production and sales of Nollywood movies include Nollywood-NYC, African Artists Collaborative and Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors alongside the Filmmakers Association of Nigeria, USA.
The statement said the “investigation began with a complaint to the District Attorney’s Action Center, about the illegal sale of pirated,” Nollywood movies and NYC investigators executed search warrants at nine stores, from which they recovered “more than 10,300 counterfeit DVDs; five multi-slot, high-volume disc duplicators; as well as hundreds of blank DVDs, disc cases and sleeves, and pre-printed media covers.”
The investigators also recovered laptop computers, business records, checkbooks and bank records, from the various businesses.
The statement added that “investigations will continue, until it is determined who owns each of the businesses and who reproduced and distributed the recordings.”