The lawsuit below is an interesting one, although I anticipated it. Folks, if you recall, in The Africa Music Law Show (AML) episode 75, I discussed music publishing in Nigeria in an entertainment law roundtable discussion with fellow entertainment law colleagues. One of the things I pointed out during our discussion was the inequity of the royalty payments by MTN, a South African company, to Nigerian artists in Nigeria.
It is interesting to now see COSON pursue legal action against MTN and it will be interesting to see the impact of this lawsuit in the long run. I do anticipate MTN fighting back. They’ve been hit really hard in the pocket book, first by the federal government and now COSON.
Revisit AML’s entertainment law roundtable discussion on music publishing below, and also check out COSON’s press statement.
In Africa’s Biggest Copyright Law Suit Ever, COSON ‘Bombs’ MTN with 16 Billion Naira Claim
Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), the nation’s sole government approved collective management organization for musical works and sound recordings, steadfast in its recent promise of an unprecedented show down with copyright infringers and royalty defaulters in Nigeria, has filed a N16 Billion law suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos against telecommunications giant, MTN, for copyright infringement.
This is the biggest copyright law suit ever in the continent of Africa with 18 separate claims endorsed on the writ supported by a 43 paragraph Statement of Claim filed by Lagos Intellectual property lawyer, Mr. Justin Ige of Creative Legal. In the suit No. FHC/L/CS/619/2016, COSON has asked the court for six different declarations of copyright infringement perpetrated by MTN in the MTN Friendship’, ‘Connect’ or ‘Walk In’ Centres across Nigeria; the MTN ‘Road Shows’ in Nigeria; the various MTN Music Concerts, Festivals, Award Shows, Product Activations and Corporate events; the MTN Callertunez platform; the MTN Music Plus Platform and the MTN Mobile Radio.
Attaching numerous letters written to MTN, COSON in the Statement of Claim stated that it has taken several steps, engaged in massive media advertising, organized various programmes, devoted enormous time and resources in appealing to MTN to obtain the appropriate licences and pay requisite royalties for the musical works and sound recordings deployed by the company but that MTN has behaved as if it is above the law and no attempt made by COSON has got MTN to meet its lawful obligations.
Supported by numerous exhibits, the Plaintiff in the Statement of Claim, said that while in recent years, COSON has collected and distributed several millions of naira received from various users of music to its members, affiliates and assignors as copyright royalty, not one KOBO has been collected from MTN which touts itself as the biggest distributor of music in Nigeria and falsely holds itself out as a good friend of the Nigerian music industry.
COSON also complained that for every Caller Ring Back Tune (CRBT) sold by MTN, the Defendant keeps a whopping 60% – 70% of the income to itself, gives just about 30% – 40% of the revenue to be fought over by the Value Added Service (VAS) Provider, the Record Label, the Performer, etc and unconscionably and against all well-known international practices, pays not even ONE KOBO to the songwriters or composers, the copyright owners responsible for creating the musical works sold.
Also in the court documents, COSON expressed the concern that as a direct result of the refusal of MTN to pay royalties for the musical works deployed in its operations to promote and support its trade and business and directly boost its income, the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has been denied several millions of naira being Value Added Tax (VAT) and other taxable income accruable to the government from the royalties.
COSON went further to ask the Federal High Court for an injunction restraining MTN, its agents, privies or servants from the continued unauthorized copying, communication to the public, streaming, selling, broadcasting, making available for downloading and permitting the unauthorized performance and infringement of the copyright in the musical works and sound recordings belonging to the members, affiliates and assignors of COSON.
In a statement issued a few days before the filing of the suit, Chairman of COSON and former President of PMAN, Chief Tony Okoroji said, “Anyone familiar with COSON knows that if we say that we are going to do something, we are going to do it. At COSON, we are resolute that the labour of Nigerian musicians and investors in the music industry who toil every day to make people happy will no longer be in vain. They cannot make people happy and be sad themselves. Anyone intending to exploit their sweat to serve his own purpose has COSON to deal with. The recent crash in the price of crude oil should be a lesson that Nigeria can no longer afford to waste her tremendous intellectual property assets. Our music and our movies in great demand everywhere in the world must count for something. They should contribute significantly to the nation’s GDP and provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of our citizens. The era of monkey dey work, baboon dey chop is over. We have asked our lawyers to go on ‘rampage’. Our brief to them is clear: there will be no untouchables and no sacred cows; no retreat, no surrender”.
-Press statement from COSON.ng
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