What are your thoughts on the court’s ruling? Should Tony Okoroji appeal the decision?
COURT AWARDS N25 MILLION DAMAGES AGAINST COSON’S CHAIRMAN, TONY OKOROJI IN FAVOUR OF MCSN’S MAYO AYILARAN.
Honourable Justice O. Femi-Adeniyi of the Lagos High Court, Ikeja Division, on Wednesday, 22nd October 2014 awarded a Twenty Five Million Naira (N25,000,000.00) damages and costs of Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira (N250,000.00) against Chief Tony Okoroji in favour of Mr. Mayo Ayilaran.
The award was as a result of a judgment handed down by the court against Tony Okoroji in a libel suit filed by Mr. Mayo Ayilaran, in which Mr. Ayilaran claimed that Mr. Tony Okoroji libelled him in a letter which he, Tony Okoroji, wrote to the Performing Right Society (PRS) of the United Kingdom and copied to the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC) and the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC).
In his defence Tony Okoroji claimed that he wrote the letter in public interest and as Chairman of the Performing and Mechanical Rights Society (PMRS), now Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), from a privileged position. He also advanced the argument of alleged illegality of MCSN’s operations as the basis for writing the letter, claiming that Mr. Ayilaran and MCSN were facing criminal charges for their activities. He equally relied on the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case Compact Discs Technologies Limited & ors vs. MCSN.
In his claim, Mayo Ayilaran maintained that as a law-abiding citizen, he has been carrying out his duties as a copyright administrator, recognized worldwide and with good standing with many local and international organisations with which his organisation, MCSN, was affiliated or in business. He maintained that he has not been tried or convicted of any offense within and outside the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that the Defendant, just because he has interest in taking over the business of his employers (MCSN), cannot use that to describe him or call him by the odious names as contained in the said letter written by Tony Okoroji to the PRS and copied to other international organisations with which he (Mayo Ayilaran) has business dealings.
Reviewing the issues, evidence, arguments and authorities placed before the Court by parties, Hon. Justice Femi-Adeniyi resolved all issues in favour of Mr. Mayo Ayilaran of MCSN as follows:
1. That exhibit D5 (the Court of Appeal Judgment in Compact Discs Technologies Limited & ors vs. MCSN & anor.) heavily relied upon by the Defendant did not refer to the illegality or otherwise of operating a collecting society and therefore found that Exhibit D5 does not support the defendant’s allegation of illegality against the claimant.
2. That the defendant has not been successful in discharging the burden of criminality alleged against the claimant in that the defendant failed to present a conviction order against the claimant, or indeed any other document which attests to the conviction of the claimant as a criminal, but the defendant has rather found the claimant guilty in his own personal court.
3. That the plea of privilege cannot avail the Defendant, because though the Defendant claimed that he wrote the letter in his capacity as PMRS Chairman, in his line of duty and for the interest of the general public or copyright community, but the letter was addressed to 3 bodies, none of whom is the general public. Secondly, the Defendant claimed that he had written the letter in response to letters sent by the PRS of the United Kingdom to some of the members of PMRS, the letter had not been written to PMRS as a body. Therefore the defendant cannot claim to have a duty to PRS or any of the other addressees in respect of a letter not written to him, either in his personal capacity or as chairman of PMRS.
4. That the words used by the defendant, which are disparaging of the claimant are not mere vulgar abuse but that they were used intentionally and with the motive to remove the claimant in favour with the recipients.
The Court therefore entered judgment in favour of Mr. Ayilaran and ordered as follows:
1. The sum of N25 Million against the defendant (Tony Okoroji) being damages for libel contained in a letter dated December 4, 2001 written to the Performing Rights Society Limited, United Kingdom headed “PRS Activities in Nigeria: Serving the Interest of the Authors/Composers or Mayo Ayilaran?” and copied to the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers and the Nigerian Copyright Commission.
2. The defendant be and is hereby perpetually restrained from further writing, publishing or causing to be written or published the aforesaid letter or works used therein or similar works defamatory of the claimant (Mayo Ayilaran).
3. Costs of N250,000 and interest on the judgment sum at 10% per annum from the date of judgment.
In his reaction to the judgment and court orders, Mr. Ayilaran said that first, he gives all the glory to God Almighty and Jesus Christ who have preserved him and all parties to come this far and see the end of the case, which started way back in 2002 following a letter written out of sheer malice in 2001. He stated that the ripple effect of the content of that letter and malice, which the court has established is what is at the roots of the copyright crises being witnessed in the country till date. Mr. Ayilaran praised the judge for his erudition, which confirms that the court still is and will remain the last hope of the common man. He concluded that he strongly believes in the Lord that as the lies written and spoken against him have been exposed and fallen like pack of cards, so will the other lies, which are informed by malice, in the copyright sector fall completely as they have already been exposed and are falling, as exemplified in the findings and decisions of the National Assembly in 2013. He only hopes that Tony Okoroji will humbly obey the court this time around and not toe the line of impunity which has been the bane in the copyright sector over the years.
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