One of Nigeria’s biggest hotels, Transcorp Hilton Abuja, has been dragged to court by Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), the nation’s sole government approved Collective Management Organization for musical works and sound recordings. In the copyright infringement action filed by the Abuja based law firm of Ifeanyi Opara & Co, COSON is also suing the American company, Hilton International Manage LLC, which manages hundreds of hotels in several countries across the globe.
In Suit No FHC/ABJ/C5/503/2012 supported by a 34 paragraph Statement of Claim and over 40 exhibits, filed at the Federal High Court Abuja on August 13, 2012, COSON pleaded that the 2nd Defendant (Hilton) which manages hotels in many countries around the world knows and ought to know that it is blatantly unlawful to infringe the intellectual property rights of creative people anywhere in the world but the 2nd Defendant has done nothing to end the brazen abuse of the intellectual property rights of owners of copyright in musical works and sound recordings in the huge facility managed by it in Nigeria and has rather continued to enjoy the profit emanating from such abuse.
COSON went on to plead that the behaviour of the Defendants in the suit which is unacceptable practice in any of the many countries around the world where Hilton manages hotels has led to massive loss of jobs to the nation, significant loss of revenue to the country and heavy capital flight from Nigeria as most of the world’s best known international music companies such as EMI, Sony Music, Polygram, etc have divested from Nigeria and the domestic investors are leaving the industry in droves because of the intolerable amount of copyright infringement encouraged by the likes of the Defendants.
COSON in the suit has asked the court for the award of more than three billion naira against the Defendants in unpaid royalties, interest on the unpaid royalties, general, exemplary and aggravated damages for the unauthorized copying, communication to the public, permission to perform and infringement of the copyright in the musical works and sound recordings belonging to its members, affiliates and assignors. The Collective Management Organization has also asked the court for a perpetual injunction restraining the Defendants, their agents, privies or servants from the unauthorized copying, communication to the public, permission to perform and infringement of the copyright in the musical works and sound recordings belonging to its members, affiliates and assignors.
Reacting to the development, COSON Chairman, Chief Tony Okoroji, said, ‘It is certainly a new day for the creative industry in Nigeria. Those who have followed this process will vouch that we have been very patient with the hotel industry in Nigeria. We have not been rash. We have pleaded with them, appealed and sought compromise on every front. Unfortunately, their leaders believe that they are too smart and have treated us with contempt and disdain and have played a game of chicken with us. They have behaved as if Nigeria is a nation without laws and all music found in Nigeria is theirs to profit from as they wish. Let it be clear that we are not backing down. Push has come to shove and the hotel industry is directly responsible for whatever tools we have now deployed from our tool box. Other tools are there and will come into play if they become necessary’
Chief Okoroji, author of the book, Copyright & the New Millionaires and one of the best known campaigners for intellectual property rights in Africa, went on to say, ‘I have said elsewhere that COSON is committed to the defence of the rights of the music industry in Nigeria no matter where it leads. If anybody pulls at us, we will pull back. If anyone pushes us, we will push back. We have opened our doors wide and still continue to keep them open to all who are willing to discuss with us and legally deploy music in their businesses. Those who respect us will receive respect from us. Those who treat the music industry with contempt will hear from us’.
Also commenting on the development, COSON General Manager, Mr. Chinedu Chukwuji, said, ‘I wish to repeat that we are monitoring everybody and I cannot say who will be next. Let me also repeat my advice to my friends who use music in their businesses that it is far cheaper to clear the copyright ahead of time than to face the massive litigation that intellectual property infringement attracts. I don’t think it makes sense to have to pay the huge legal costs and still have to pay the licensing fees and damages when you well know that the work you are deploying does not belong to you but people will not listen. Let me be clear, COSON is not joking’
It will be recalled that in the last two months, COSON has filed several multi-billion naira copyright infringement actions and has signed copyright royalty agreements with different commercial users of music such as Google, Multichoice, Wazobia FM, STV/Rhythm FM, FRCN, LTV, Galaxy TV, etc.