Trial has begun before Justice Babs O. Kuewumi of the Federal High Court, Lagos in the Five Hundred Million Naira copyright infringement action brought by Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), against Lagos Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island and Mr. Philip Speilhage, General Manager of the organization.
On the witness stand on behalf of COSON on Thursday, February 24, 2017, was Chief Tony Okoroji, Chairman of the Board of the organization, a former President of PMAN and author of the celebrated book, ‘Copyright & the New Millionaires’. The renowned copyright activist was Led in evidence by Lagos Intellectual Property lawyer, Mr. Justin Ige of Creative Legal who appeared for COSON with Mr. Obi Onyewuchi.
Under cross examination by Mr. Durojaiye Mufutua, lawyer to Lagos Oriental Hotel, Chief Okoroji who tendered evidence that he had spent some time at the hotel, testified that by providing the venue for infringement of copyright in music, the hotel was aiding the infringement and therefore was liable. Okoroji also testified that the responsibility of the hotel does not end with the provision of the venue and other facilities but included ensuring that the music performed in its premises was not infringing music. Justice Kuewumi thereafter adjourned the matter to May 22 for continuation of trial.
In the Suit No. FHC/L/CS/1091/15, COSON is asking for the award of more than five hundred million naira in unpaid royalties and damages for the unauthorized copying, communication to the public, permission to perform in public and infringement of the copyright in the musical works and sound recordings belonging to COSON members, affiliates and assignors.
It will be recalled that when the case was filed in 2015, Okoroji had said, ‘Contrary to the belief in some quarters, Nigeria is not a lawless country. Our laws work. We have gone to court to find out if Lagos Oriental Hotel is special and above Nigerian law. As of today, several top hotels doing business across Nigeria are obeying the law, have got authorization for the music they deploy and are paying royalties for the deployment of the music. Such hotels include Eko Hotel & Suites, Victoria Island; Transcorp Hilton, Abuja; Sheraton Hotel & Towers, Abuja; Protea Hotel, GRA, Ikeja; Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island; Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Raddison Blu, Victoria Island; Chelsea Hotel, Abuja, Sereba Hotel, Edo, Rockview Hotel, Abuja; The Moore House, Ikoyi; Protea Hotel, Victoria Island, Santex Hotel, Edo State; Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, Valencia Hotel, Abuja; Southern Sun, Ikoyi, Nanet Suites, Abuja; Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja; Protea Hotel, Abuja, Savoy Suites, Ikeja, Agura Hotel, Abuja; Golden Tulip, Lagos, Victoria Beach Hotel, Lagos, etc. We believe in our courts and we are very interested in finding out if Nigerian laws will be turned upside down just for this set of people.”
Also commenting on the development, COSON General Manager, Mr. Chinedu Chukwuji, said, ‘We have always been one to deliver on our words at COSON. Last year we lunched ‘Operation No Hiding Place’ and promised all music users who have continued to show disdain for the rights of our members and affiliates that they are in for a rough ride. We are approved by the government to revolutionize the copyright culture in Nigeria for the good of the nation. We will continue to do that without any apologies. We are on course and we are not looking back”.