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Copyright war: Court stops COSON, others from collecting, distributing royalties

In what may be a landmark case in the copyright struggle in Nigeria, the Musical Copyright Society Nigeria (MCSN), through its Attorney, Dr. Ope Banwo, has filed and certified as a class action, the very first class lawsuit on copyright infringement at the Federal High Court against the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) and all other copyright work users in Nigeria.

In the suit No. FHC/L/CS/1267/12 between MCSN vs.COSON and six others, MCSN sought for the order of the court certifying the plaintiffís claims as a class action, particularly as presented against the defendants in the suit in respect of the plaintiffís copyright in the works in its repertoire exploited by the defendants and an order of the court in respect of the exploitation of the copyright works in the plaintiffís repertoire restraining any unnamed person falling with the class of the defendants against whom this action has been brought in a representatitive capacity from opting out from defending this action except with the leave of the court and an order of the Court granting leave to advertise the notice and order certifying the class action against the defendants in a national newspaper.

After hearing the argument of MCSNís counsel, Mr. Yemi Salman of Banwo & Igbokwe Chambers, the court, presided over by Justice M. B. Idris, on November 27, 2012, granted all the orders sought by MCSN against the seven defendants and all other users of copyright works in MCSNís repertoire in Nigeria and adjourned the hearing of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction to December 10, 2012, pending the final determination of the suit.

The court approved the seven representative defendants namely COSON; Intercontinental Distillers Limited; Wema Bank Plc; PZ Cussons, Vmobile (Airtel); Motorola Nigeria Limited and Glaxonsmithkline Consumer Nigeria Plc, to defend the class action suit on behalf of all copyright users in the country.

As with all class actions, decisions given in the case will be binding on all users of copyright works regardless of whether they are before the court or not.

In his reaction, Banwo, MCSNís director of legal affairs, stated that this is the first class action lawsuit to be filed in Nigeria on copyright matters and in the ongoing war between MCSN as a copyright owner, assignee and exclusive licensee and the approved sole collecting society, COSON.

He stated that MCSN is seeking to put an end to the issue of who has rights to collect, and be paid for exploitation of musical works in its repertoire of works in Nigeria, by suing COSON and all copyright users as represented by the defendants in the suit (i.e TV stations; all radio stations; hotels; nightclubs, etc.), in one class action lawsuit.

“The immediate consequence of this action is that it will stop all copyright work users to be cautious in paying any royalties to COSON or any other body except the proven owner of copyright in the work, until all the issues before the court is determined”, he added.  

He disclosed further that the MCSN has also filed for an injunction against COSON to prevent it from spending or distributing the royalties it has collected so far from rights users to their members since most of the money belonged to works in the repertoire of MCSN.  

“What MCSN is asking in one of the reliefs is for COSON to give account of all the monies it has collected on MCSNís repertoire since its days as the Performing and Mechanical Rights Society (PMRS) till now as COSON since COSON was sued in its own name, including its predecessor-in-title by whatever name so-called.  As it is, any company that continues to pay any royalty to COSON before the determination of the lawsuit will be committing contempt of court.

ìLet them come and convince the court why royalties belonging to MCSN should be paid to COSON, or why COSON should be collecting royalties on works that do not belong to their collecting society,î he cautioned.

According to the Chairman of MCSN, Mr. Orits Williki, ìwe cannot be intimidated from protecting the works and rights of our musicians who have entrusted us with the responsibilities of making sure that their sweat is not pirated and used with impunity.

“MCSN, as their legal assignee, also wants to ensure that monies due to them from rights users are paid to their chosen organization, and not COSON or any other body created and forced upon musicians by the NCC. Now that the court has allowed us to sue every copyright user in one class action suit, this matter will be settled once and for all,î he told R.

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