Trial Continues In The N500 Million Copyright Infringement Suit Brought By COSON Against Lagos Oriental Hotel
Trial in the Five Hundred Million Naira copyright infringement action brought by Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) against Lagos Oriental Hotel and Mr. Philip Speilhage, General Manager of the organization has witnessed its second hearing before Justice Babs O. Kuewumi of the Federal High Court, Lagos.
Continuing on the witness stand on behalf of COSON, Africa’s fastest growing CMO for music, on Monday, May 22, 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’.
Asked by Mr. Durojaiye Mufutua, lawyer to Lagos Oriental Hotel, whether he is an expert on Copyright, Chief Okoroji told the court that he has both a Diploma in Business and Industrial Law and an Advanced Diploma in Commercial Law & Practice in which Copyright is a key course of study. He also explained that he is the author of the book, ‘Copyright, Neighbouring Rights & the New Millionaires’, an important text book in the teaching of copyright across the continent. He further told the court that he has acted as consultant on copyright to several international organizations and was twice a member of the board of the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC). Finally, he told the court that he was a member of the committee that drafted the Nigerian Copyright Act.
Chief Okoroji was emphatic that by deploying the music of innocent citizens to entertain its guests and make profit for itself without any license or authorization, Lagos Oriental Hotel was infringing the intellectual property rights of those citizens. Chief Okoroji also told the court that the fact that Lagos Oriental Hotel may have paid subscription to Multichoice/DSTV for the music signals received in the rooms in the hotel, did not absolve the hotel of liability as the hotel was not only communicating the music to its public but was rebroadcasting the signals.
Asked why COSON only listed hotels licensed by the organization in its statement of claim and no mention was made of private venues, Chief Okoroji said, “we are simply comparing apples with apples”. He clarified that in respect of music copyright infringement, there was no difference between a privately owned event centre and an event centre located within the premises of a hotel, as playing of music in a commercial or public space without a valid license amounts to an infringement of the creator’s rights, which COSON has been assigned to protect. He said that the liability was the same whether the event venue stands on its own or is part of hotel.
Asked what the situation would be if a Disk Jockey was responsible for playing the music in the hotel, Chief Okoroji testified that if the Disk Jockey has a COSON licence, he would be ‘inoculated’ from a COSON court action but that the DJ’s licence will not inoculate the hotel.
Justice Kuewumi thereafter adjourned the matter to Wednesday, October 4, 2017 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.”
Restating his position on the matter, COSON General Manager, Mr. Chinedu Chukwuji said, ‘‘I have and will continue to say this; we have always been one to deliver on our words at COSON, and this isn’t about to change. Last year we launched ‘Operation No Hiding Place’ and promised all music users who have continued to show utter disrespect for the rights of our members and affiliates that they are in for a really rough ride. We are approved by the Nigerian government to revolutionize the copyright culture for the good of the nation and this, we will do using the full arm of the law. We are on course and we are not looking back until people begin to appreciate the creative minds behind these works”.