In continuation of the controversies that have rocked the creative industry, as 2016 rolled in, a Nigerian writer, Ify Asia Chiemeziem, is accusing Nollywood producer, Reginald Ebere, of intellectual property theft having purportedly stolen the story in one of her e-books for a film he recently produced. Daily Trust reports.
Nigerian erotica writer, Ify Asia Chiemeziem, was on Facebook one Saturday morning when a fan of hers in the UK sent her an inbox message that he had just watched a Nollywood movie, ‘Living with a Ghost’, that seemed to have ripped off the story in one of her books.
Ify Googled the movie and from the synopsis she read it was incredibly similar to her novella, “My Ghost Lover” which she published online in 2012.
Anxious, Ify went further and paid for the movie on Iroko TV and when she watched it, she was blown away by how much of the story was “stolen” from hers.
“About 70 to 80 per cent, all the way down to the ending,” she told Daily Trust. “They only changed a few things.”
Agitated, Ify looked up the producer of the film. It was Reginald Ebere, a veteran of Nollywood, credited with some of the industry’s epoch defining flicks from the 1990s to date.
“I wanted to give him the benefit of a doubt because I assumed he was only the producer and someone else wrote the story and gave it to him,” Ify said, “But when I discovered he was the script writer and the producer, I knew he knew what he was doing.”
Like what every typical Nigerian would do upon discovering a theft, Ify called in the neighbours. In this case she took to Facebook to announce that “Reginald Ebere has stolen my story.”
Soon enough the post was trending. Many commenters wanted to know if she was sure, if she could have been mistaken. A few others who had read the e-book and watched the movie said Ify has grounds for a legitimate claim of intellectual property theft.
Soon leading names in Nollywood started asking questions about the veracity of Ify’s claims. One of them is producer and director Charles Novia.
“The Reginald Ebere I know is an original writer and director who has penned famous Nollywood hits since 1995 till date, among them the famous ‘Issakaba’ movies and many more which defined an era in the late 90s,” Novia wrote in his comment on Ify’s post. “I have to ask Ify if she indeed watched the movie in question and noticed similarities with her book. The Reginald I know personally is an intellectual and one of the founders of a few Nollywood institutions such as the Directors Guild of Nigeria. So, this accusation comes to me as a huge surprise as he has never been linked to anything of such but I suppose he would have something to say about this. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.”
When Reginald Ebere surfaced on the scene, he sounded irritated that Ify had not taken it upon herself to table the issue before him but chose to go public with her allegations.
In his comment he said, “Ify, I choose to comment here because you came to the public space to lay aspersions on my person. If not, I would not have dignified you with a reply. It is very sad that people try to use other peoples’ success to gain attention. I do not know you, have never met you before. If I am wrong, correct me. I do not know what you do and where you live. Neither do I have access to your laptop so please tell me how I can steal an unpublished work? Am I a ghost? I advise that you thread carefully because I am mindful of suing you for defamation of character and slander.”
Perhaps what Mr. Ebere took for granted was that Ify’s story was actually published as an e-book in 2012, three years before his movie was released. My Ghost Lover was the first in what Ify has dubbed “The Naughty Wife Series” (a series of salacious stories with explicit contents) which she put up online as an e-book for free. It was a marketing strategy, she said. She wanted to entice readers and get them hooked on the books, after a few weeks the e-book would only be available for sale.
Daily Trust’s attempts to speak to Mr. Ebere on the matter have proven unsuccessful. He didn’t respond to emails and Facebook messages sent to him. He did not respond to phone calls and text messages either until days later when he called to report that he had lost his phone and had only just recovered it. But subsequent attempts to reach him on that number have proven futile as his phone is reportedly switched off.
However, his initial response to her comment on Facebook was unconvincing for Dr Emman Shehu, founder of the Abuja Writers’ Forum.
“His response gave him away,” Dr Shehu said when contacted by Daily Trust, “Trying to intimidate. That for me was an inkling of something not right on his part.
Like many others, Dr Shehu thinks Ify has a legitimate claim. “I have a feeling she has a legitimate claim. The issue is proving it. This is where dates play a critical role,” he said.
Dr. Shehu has taken an active interest in the case and blames the writer for not taking “essential steps to protect her works” which he says all writers should take. But with regards to what is next for Ify, he said, “Now that there is an issue, she has to take every legitimate step to get it sorted out, including getting the Censors Board to temporarily withdraw the film’s license until the issue is resolved,” he said.
Ify is not going to let this go easily because of the hardship she underwent while writing her book. “I was heavily pregnant when I wrote that story. I knew what I faced. I spent sleepless nights writing that story,” an embittered Ify told Daily Trust.
She however remains confident that she has a valid case and with Mr. Ebere not making any contact to resolve the issue, she sees only one option open to her.
“What I want is for him to clear his name or prove that he didn’t steal my work or else I will take him to court,” she said and then added, “I don’t believe there is any way he can prove he didn’t steal my story.”
By Abubakar Adam Ibrahim