AN Ikeja High Court, presided over by Honourable Justice A. M. Lawal, in a ruling delivered on Wednesday, 25th March 2020 in Suit No. ID/ADR/2389/2019, has dismissed a case of defamation filed by Chief Tony Okoroji, the disputed Chairman of Copyright Society of Nigeria Ltd/Gte (COSON) against Mr. Obi Ezeilo, the Director of Prosecution of Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC).
COSON, whose operating licence as a collecting society in music had lapsed since May 2019, is currently not approved to function as a collective management organisation (CMO).
Chief Okoroji had filed the case against Mr. Ezeilo, a public servant, in his personal capacity, claiming, among others, general damages and special damages in the sum of one hundred million Naira (N100,000,000) for an alleged utterance of defamatory statements in a meeting held on the premises of Federal High Court, Enugu, between Mr. Ezeilo and the legal counsel of COSON, following the latter’s request for discussions towards an amicable resolution of the case at the Federal High Court, Enugu Division.
The ruling of the Court was sequel to a preliminary objection filed and argued by the defendant, Mr. Ezeilo, urging the Court to dismiss the matter. In addition to upholding the objection of the defendant, Justice Lawal also held that the Lagos State High Court does not have jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
The case at the Ikeja High Court is one of the several cases filed by Chief Tony Okoroji, COSON and some members of COSON against the Nigerian Copyright Commission and some of its staff in the wake of the suspension by the Commission of the operating licence of COSON as a Collective Management Organisation in April 2018.
In December 2017, the Commission had received a petition from some members of COSON calling for investigation into an alleged irregularity in the conduct of an extraordinary general meeting of COSON on 19th December 2017. Based on the outcome of the investigations, the Commission issued a directive to COSON, urging it not to implement certain resolutions of the extraordinary general meeting which the Commission considered irregular. The management of COSON disregarded the directive of the Commission, thereby leading to the suspension of the operating license of COSON.
The legal actions taken by Chief Okoroji, COSON and some of its members, aimed at frustrating and circumventing the regulatory powers and functions of the Nigerian Copyright Commission have mostly been dismissed and/or struck out by the Courts for want of merit.
Other cases filed by COSON and its members against the Commission and its officials which the Courts have either dismissed or struck out include: Suit No. FHC/EN/CS/58/18 Uchenna Stangley Anowo & 3 Ors v. Nigerian Copyright Commission & 14 Ors, where members of COSON loyal to Chief Okoroji sued the Commission, its officials and some directors of COSON at the Federal High Court, Enugu, asking the Court to invalidate the suspension of its licence; Suit No. FHC/EN/CS/116/18 Sir Angus Onyema Nwangwu & 3 Ors v. Nigerian Copyright Commission & 4 Ors where members of COSON loyal to Chief Okoroji sued the Commission and its staff at the Federal High Court, Enugu, asking for several relieves including to quash the directive of the Commission suspending its licence; Suit No. FHC/L/CS/606/18 Copyright Society of Nigeria & 8 Ors v. Efe Omoreghe & 7 Ors where COSON sued some of its directors and the Commission, seeking several orders including the return of its operating licence which was suspended by the Commission. The case was dismissed on 23rd of May 2019.
In the wake of the serial failure of its several suits, COSON and Chief Okoroji have resorted to trumping up several false allegations and frivolous petitions against the leadership of the Commission and some of its officers, as well as engaging in negative media campaign.
The Nigerian Copyright Commission has maintained its position of strict regulation of collective management operations in Nigeria to guaranty the needed transparency, accountability and good governance. The Commission’s position takes into account the fact that the rights managed by CMOs belong to Nigerian and foreign creators and those rights should be managed in compliance with global best practices to safeguard them against capricious and abusive conduct.
Consequently, the Commission recently commissioned an international audit firm to carry out a full forensic audit of COSON as a precondition for renewal of its operating licence which had lapsed in May 2019, following COSON’s application to the Commission. COSON is, at the moment, not an approved collective management organisation and, therefore, not entitled to solicit for, or license the use of creative works, or collect royalties therefrom. Section 39 (4) and (5) of the Copyright Act make it a punishable offence to perform the functions of a collecting society without the approval of the Nigerian Copyright commission.
Vincent A. Oyefeso
Director of Public Affairs