The Rise of Nollywood: Creators, Entrepreneurs, and Pirates

39 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2012 Last revised: 22 Oct 2019

See all articles by Olufunmilayo Arewa

Olufunmilayo Arewa

Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University

Date Written: February 27, 2012


The rise of Nollywood illustrates the revolutionary potential of digital technologies in Africa. Nollywood, or the Nigerian video film industry, reflects technology leapfrogging that is increasingly prominent in Africa today. Such leapfrogging, however, may raise significant issues with respect to legal and other institutions. Film production had largely ceased in Nigeria by the end of the 1980s. Despite this absence, in the early 1990s, Nigeria started on a path that has led it to become the top producer of digital video films in the world. Nigeria is, however, an unlikely locale for the development of a major film industry. In addition to lacking fundamental infrastructures for the development of a film industry, Nigeria has not historically had robust intellectual property enforcement. As a result, Nollywood may be seen as a natural experiment for creativity in the relative absence of intellectual property. This Nollywood natural experiment reflects the actions of varied and at times overlapping roles, including creators, entrepreneurs, and pirates, all of whom have contributed to the growth of Nollywood and Nollywood distribution networks. The viral spread of Nollywood films has thus far been a key element of Nollywood successes. Nollywood films are watched, for example, throughout Africa and in African immigrant communities in Europe and the United States. The Nollywood example suggests the need for more nuanced understanding of the interaction between intellectual property and cultural production and greater recognition of potentially varied ways that intellectual property may influence the shape of cultural production. The unauthorized distribution of Nollywood films is part of wider patterns of increasing unauthorized dissemination of content in the digital era. Such unauthorized distribution has led to pervasive labeling of certain types of copying as piracy. Analyzing the rise of Nollywood can contribute to existing global intellectual property debates and highlight relevant business issues in contemporary contexts of cultural production. Further, consideration of Nollywood’s current growing pains suggests that, as Nollywood continues to grow, industry participants must separate the distinct yet interrelated problems arising from piracy from those emanating from Nollywood’s informality in doing business. This article suggests that in addition to intellectual property enforcement strategies to contain piracy, Nollywood participants must adopt business strategies that monetize piracy by extracting value from wide-reaching Nollywood distribution networks.

Keywords: copyright, creativity, creators, piracy, entrepreneurship, Nollywood, video film, film distribution, Nigeria, distribution networks, African diaspora

Suggested Citation

Arewa, Olufunmilayo, The Rise of Nollywood: Creators, Entrepreneurs, and Pirates (February 27, 2012). UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2012-11, Available at SSRN: or

Olufunmilayo Arewa (Contact Author)

Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University ( email )

3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

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