Barely a week after the Nigerian Communications Commission slammed MTN Nigerian a $5.2 billion fine for disobeying regulatory directives, a N500 million suit has been filed against the telecoms giant for alleged copyright infringement.
The suit was filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja by a musician and entertainer, Omenuwoma Dovie, popularly known in entertainment circles as ‘Baba 2010’.
In the suit, No. FHC/ABJ/CS/895/15 dated November 4, 2015, Mr. Dovie sought a declaration of the court that the sale of four of his songs, namely “Gentlemen”, “Omotena”, “Twisted”, and “Unity Song” originally titled “Buy Africa”, to customers without a contractual agreement with him violated his copyright.
In his statement of claims filed in support of his suit, the musician said the songs were contained in MTN’s 2005 Compact Disc album titled “Twisted”, allegedly reproduced and sold to over 60 million of the telecom company’s subscribers and customers nationwide at N50 each for a month.
The Counsel to the musician, Ogaga Ifowodo of Felix, Igelige & Associates, said the suit became necessary following the breakdown of negotiations for an amicable settlement of the “flagrant and sustained violation by MTN Nigeria of copyright to the four original musical compositions and recordings of the musician.”
Mr. Ifowodo asked the court to declare the sale of the four songs by MTN to its subscribers for about six years without ascertaining the copyright constitutes, a flagrant violation of his client’s copyright.
He said notice of copyright violation, which included the musician’s moral rights in one of the compositions, was sent by the musician through his counsel to MTN in a letter dated August 6, 2015. The letter also included a demand for compensation for damages.
Following the notice of copyright violation, Mr. Ifowodo said his client had demanded for compensation from MTN.
In the suit, Mr. Dovie said at no time did he assign, lease, permit or license any or all four songs to MTN for commercial use. He listed his witnesses to include Zino Dovie, ThankGod David and Chinonzo Owuwa.
Having waited in vain for the period to be contacted by MTN for a formal permission and for payment for the long unauthorised use of the four songs and profiting from his work, he said had no option than to seek for protection of his property.
Rather than meet his demand, Mr. Dovie said MTN management opted to remove the four songs from its website, although the sale of the songs to subscribers continued through the telecom company’s network.
To demonstrate the illegal act by MTN was a wilful, flagrant and deliberate infringement of his copyright, the musician said MTN wrote to him on October 13, 2015 through its solicitors, Abraham & Co.
Curiously, he said after the telecom company denied any wrong-doing or act of infringement on the copyright to the musician’s songs, it however offered to pay him N10million ex-gratia for an amicable resolution of the matter.
The musician said he promptly rejected the offer, pointing out that it was grossly inadequate as a remedy for the prolonged and flagrant violation of his copyright.
Consequently, he asked the court for an order for MTN to pay him N300 million as general damages for derogatory use of the song, and N100 million each as special damages as well as aggravated and punitive damages for the unlawful infringement of his copyright.
Describing the demand for compensation as conservative, Mr. Dovie said the calculation of the amount MTN m
ight have made from its illegal sale of the four songs showed that at N50 per song, about N2.5 million was realised a month; N30 million a year and N180 million for six years.
The musician also asked the court for a perpetual injunction restraining MTN, its agents, servants and privies from further selling, offering for a fee or as ring-back tones or caller tunes to customers without first reaching a contractual agreement with him.
The musician wants MTN to pay the damages to him within 30 days.
When contacted for the company’s reaction to the allegation in the suit, its spokesperson, Funso Aina, asked for a formal request from the reporter, to enable MTN respond accordingly.
Mr. Aina did not, however, send the response to the request sent to him as at the time of publishing the story late on Tuesday.
By Bassey Udo