By Alex Enumah
Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Abuja Division of the Fededal High Court on Wednesday found the duo of the National Universities Commission (NUC) and Zain Nigeria Ltd (now Airtel) guilty of alleged copyright infringement of the intellectual property of a journalist, Mr. Christian Ogodo.
Justice Ekwo, in a judgment held that the duo were guilty of using the work of the plaintiff without his permission and consequently slammed a cost of N703 million as damages against the defendants.
The judgment is coming 12 years after Ogodo, currently a General Editor with ARISE News, through his company, TV Xtra Production, slammed a whopping N1 billion suit against NUC and Zain in 2008 over the usage without his permission of his intellectual property.
In the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/680/2008, the plaintiff had asked the court to hold that the approval by the NUC of the programme called “Zain African Challenge” in favour of Zain Nigeria Ltd, is an infringement of his copyright in respect of the said programme.
The plaintiff’s Managing Director, Ogodo, in an affidavit in support of the suit, claimed to have developed an educational TV production quiz programme, Nigeria Universities Challenge.
He said his rights over the said TV programme were registered with the Nigerian Copyright Commission and subsequently donated to the plaintiff via a power of attorney.
The plaintiff, according to him, thereafter made a proposal to the NUC for the endorsement of the programme and for collaboration in the production of same to be broadcast on Nigerian television stations.
The plaintiff told the court that he was however surprised to find out that after about four weeks of writing to seek the endorsement and collaboration of the commission, the NUC approved a similar proposal in favour of one Natives Filmworks Ltd.
This, he said, necessitated the legal action to seek redress over the infringement of the plaintiff’s copyright in the earlier work submitted to the NUC for approval.
The plaintiff’s case against the second defendant is that the second defendant developed a similar programme, Zain African Challenge, which is similar to the plaintiff’s Universities Challenge in all material particulars.
The first defendant endorsed same in favour of the second defendant, which the plaintiff now argues that both actions of the defendants infringed on the plaintiff’s protected intellectual property work, Nigeria Universities Challenge.
While NUC did not file any form of defence to the plaintiff’s suit, and it is deemed not to have opposed the plaintiff’s suit as presently constituted, Zain Nigeria Ltd on the other hand submitted that Zain African Challenge is not an infringement of the plaintiff’s Nigeria Universities Challenge quiz programme.
The firm in admitting that the said Zain African Challenge was fashioned after ‘University Challenge’, argued that the plaintiff is not the original owner of the said University Challenge.
It claimed in its defence that the said University Challenge was published in Britain and the intellectual property of the British University Challenge.
However, delivering judgment in the suit on Wednesday, the judge held that the actions of the defendants clearly breached the copyright of the plaintiff.
According to Justice Ekwo, the defendants misunderstood the case of the plaintiff who is seeking remedy for his work not in any other part of the world, but registered in Nigeria and which existed at the time it was aired in Nigeria.
The judge held that airing the programme on the African Independent Television (AIT) and Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) without the permission of the author violated sections 2(a) (1), 6 (1) (a) (1) and 8 of the Copyrights Act.
“The law is that a work in Nigeria is the exclusive right of the owner to control the reproduction of the work in any material form and making adaptations of the work going by Section 6(1) (a) (1) and 8 of the Copyright Act.
“I find that the case of the plaintiff succeeds on the merit. I make an order entering judgment on the terms of the claims,” he said.
Part of the reliefs sought by the plaintiff include; “An order compelling the first defendant, whether by themselves, or officers, agents, servants, privies, or otherwise howsoever to endorse and approve the programme called ‘University Challenge’ in favour of the plaintiff.
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the second defendant whether by themselves, or officers, agents, servants, privies, or otherwise howsoever from producing, airing, marketing or exercising any right in respect of the programme called ‘Zain African Challenge’.
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the first defendant whether by itself, or officers, agents, servants, privies, or otherwise howsoever from approving or registering any other programme similar to University Challenge or which will infringe on the copyright of the plaintiff over the said programme.
“An order compelling the defendants jointly and severally to pay the plaintiff the sum of N500,000,000.00 (five hundred million naira) as special damages for the infringement of the plaintiff’s copyright.
“An order compelling the second defendant to pay the plaintiff the sum of N200,000,000.00 (two hundred million naira) as general damages for airing the programme titled ‘Zain African Challenge’ in Nigerian televisions which infringed on the right of the plaintiff.”