Chuma Nwokolo just won his plagiarism lawsuit against High Definition Studios

Chuma Nwokolo

In November 2019, Nigerian writer and political satirist, Chuma Nwokolo put up a blog post. The gist of the post was an accusation that filmmaker Bright Wonder Obasi had plagiarised significant portions of his short story ’10 Commandments of Nigerian Politics’ from his short story collection Diaries of A Dead African. Nwokolo stated that the allegation of plagiarism had been brought to his attention by a reader, and the project where his work was used without consent was a  MacArthur Foundation grant-funded film, ‘If I Am President,’ made to influence the conversation around the 2019 general elections.

Now, this is not the first time that Nigerian filmmakers have been accused of filching ideas from writers and scriptwriters and adapting them to film without any recognition or compensation. Omoni Oboli was also accused of stealing the script of her smash hit Okafor’s Law from scriptwriter, Jude Idada. But the similarities between the script Bright Wonder Obasi adapted and Nwokolo’s source material are too many to ignore.

Nwokolo did what many Nigerians are quick to suggest when grievances are expressed online, he took it to the courts. In a lawsuit filed as ‘Nwokolo v. High Definition Film Studio,” he accused Obasi of plagiarism, failing to acknowledge him as the author of the original material from which significant portions of the film were adapted and asked for summary compensation for his intellectual property. The Nigerian court system isn’t always bad because Nwokolo has just announced via his social media channels that the courts sided with him on the matter.

Nwokolo admitted the story Obasi’s film was adapted from was published under a creative commons license that allows for republishing and reposting but not adaptation or restructuring without express consent from Nwokolo’s estate. Obasi’s partnership with the Mac Arthur Foundation most likely played an important role in how quickly the dispute was resolved because international grant organisations do not like to be dragged into brand sullying disputes.

Obasi has issued a formal apology and proceeds from the film will be ceded to Nwokolo, who is donating them to causes that promote intellectual property.

This sets an important precedent; first about the need for proper collaborations between the Nigerian film industry and other creative industries and that intellectual property is not just there for the taking. There is protocol and consequences when that protocol is ignored.

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