Tussle for Òlòtūré’s Copyright

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The tussle over the copyright of Òlòtūré, a highly successful 2020 crime thriller on sex and human trafficking is getting messier. Tobore Ovuorie who did an investigative story in 2014 on the plight of trafficked Nigerian women is demanding compensation from Mo Abudu, the producer of the film, for allegedly infringing on her copyright. But Abudu says her claims are all balderdash. Ferdinand Ekechukwu reports

There seems to be no end in sight as the tussle over the copyright of ÒlòtÚré, a 2020 crime thriller on sex and human trafficking, rages. Recall that investigative journalist, Tobore Ovuorie, had through her attorneys, Maverick and Spectre Legal practitioners, on November 3, 2020 demanded, among others, the sum of $5 million compensation from EbonyLife Films owned by Mo Abudu. She alleged that the entertainment company stole her 2014 investigative article on sex trafficking without her permission to create ÒlòtÚré, which was launched October 2, 2020 on Netflix.

Tobore, claimed the movie is “a complete plagiarism and adaptation” of her work – ‘Inside Nigeria’s Ruthless Human Trafficking Mafia’. “Oloture is a copy and paste of my work, Oloture is my work, Oloture is my life story,” Tobore alleged in a recent interview which made the rounds last Monday. Tobore also stated that she received a letter sometime in May, 2019 titled “Appreciation for Journalistic Endeavours,” from EbonyLife signed by Mo Abudu. In the said letter, she said she was offered five percent of proceeds from the movie’s “cinema run” which will be paid through her non-profit organisation.

She further claimed that she had in 2017 contacted the director of Oloture, Kenneth Gyang for a project based on her story but was turned down.
In an earlier interview with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) in November 2020, Tobore stated that “her agitation and demands are premised on the fact that from the beginning and the end of the movie, EbonyLife wrote that the movie is fiction, and at the open and end of the movie, five other people were credited for writing the story”.

Irritated by developments over her alleged copyright infringement, Tobore lamented: “It’s horrendously wrong. A film on exploitation is birthed by exploitation itself. Is that not a huge irony? What’s the difference between the traffickers and what they (EbonyLife) have done?”
Tobore was motivated to do her news story by the plight of trafficked women in the country, as well as the death of her friend and school mate, Ifueko who died after returning home from sex work.

In Tobore’s attorneys’ letter cited earlier, they said their client’s rights under Section 10(4) of the Copyrights Act, CAP C28 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 were breached. The law stipulates: “In the case of a cinematograph film or sound recording, the author shall be obliged to conclude, prior to the making of the work, contracts in writing with all those whose works are to be used in the making of the work”.

Tobore’s lawyers asserts: “Our Client, being the author of the work adapted into the movie has the exclusive rights to control the reproduction of the work in any material form, publication of the work, performance of the work in public, translation of the work, the making of any cinematographic film or record in respect of the work, distribution of the work to the public for commercial purposes, broadcast or communication of the work to the public, the making of any adaptation of the work, and the right to authorize any of the foregoing.”

The investigative story by Tobore Ovuorie was first published by Zam Magazine, Netherlands, on 22, January 2014 and subsequently by Premium Times, Nigeria on August 12, 2014. However, Premium Times Services Limited, publishers of Premium Times, in a news report of November 16, 2020 stated that Tobore Ovuorie cannot claim copyright over the investigative report which belongs to the media company that inspired the movie. According to online publication’s editor-in-chief, Musikilu Mojeed, only the media company and its partner on that undercover project, Zam Chronicles, can lay claim to the copyright for Oloture going by Nigeria law of copyright.

Responding through a letter dated November 9, 2020 from its lawyer Olaniwun Ajayi, EbonyLife said Tobore should desist from accusing it of “ethical misconducts which bother on intellectual theft and copyrights infringement.” According to a statement released in the wake of the copyright tussle by Mo Abudu, ‘Oloture’ is a work of fiction inspired by a variety of true stories, one of which is Ovuorie’s 2014 investigative story.

“Additionally, the company (EbonyLife) gratuitously committed to donating five percent of the profit derived from the theatrical run of the movie in support of the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) founded by Ms. Ovuorie to advance the campaign against human/sex trafficking in Nigeria, though unfortunately the movie did not have a theatrical run. Whilst the unfounded allegations by Ms. Ovuorie are aimed at tarnishing the image/reputation of the company, EbonyLife is, and remains, a law abiding entity with due respect to intellectual property and human creativity.”

As if her earlier statement is elusive in some ways, Mo Abudu followed up with a 10-minute video which she released via her Instagram handle last Wednesday. She acknowledged that Tobore demanded $5 million as compensation for intellectual property theft following the film’s successful Netflix release. Although Abudu’s facts augur with existing circumstances regarding the issues in the matter, she further revealed that prior to the Netflix release of ‘Oloture’, she had maintained a cordial relationship with Tobore, offered her five percent of proceeds from the movie’s cinema run and supported her with cash gifts following the demise of her father in 2020.

Abudu insisted that she secured the rights to the film from Premium Times Services Limited, Tobore’s former employers at the time. She said: “We sought and obtained rights from Premium Times, the owners of the story and as such, fulfilled our legal obligations and do not take kindly to suggestions stating otherwise. Although I have fully addressed our legal obligations which were fully met, there are also moral issues to be dealt with in a case like this.

“So on May, 2019, twenty months before the launch of Oloture on Netflix, we reached out to Tobore to acknowledge her journalist achievement, to commend, recognize and encourage her in her ongoing campaign against sex trafficking and that of her NGO. We granted Tobore a private screening of the movie, gave her a special mention in the end credits of Oloture and I interviewed her on my talk show, Moments with Mo. In addition, we wrote to her and offered her five percent of the proceeds from our planned cinema run to go towards her NGO which she acknowledged…

“Due to the covid-19 pandemic, the cinema release of Oloture never happened. Instead we decided to partner with Netflix and the film was released on the 2nd of October, 2020. Only a day after our release on Netflix, I got a call from a reporter Kiki Mordi, who said she has been in touch with Tobore, saying ‘I’m reaching out to you because various similarities have been flagged between a 2014 investigative report, featured in Premium Times and the film and I want to include that in my report. My report is due to be out today (apologies for the short timing) and I’m hoping to clarify some facts from you and hopefully get your comments.’

“We decided to respond, although we didn’t have to. That article is available online. Within a few this of this, Tobore went on social media, making accusations and she wrote to Netflix making demands.” The businesswoman also revealed in her Instagram video that Tobore had launched an on and off social media attack on the film’s director, Kenneth Gyang as well as other members of her team. According to Abudu, Gyang had never seen the script until they contacted him to direct it.

Tobore issued a formal statement on Wednesday after Abudu’s video message, in which she alleged that she was unable to view the recording “as Ms. Mo Abudu (Aunty Mo) had blocked me on Instagram since last year. I was however able to view the recording from other platforms that reposted the video.”
Though, Tobore says she will no longer join issues on social media with Abudu on the matter, she however decided “to set the record straight for the sake of posterity.”

She argues: Firstly, EbonyLife claimed that the right to use my life story was legally obtained from my erstwhile employer – Premium Times. Unfortunately for them and as I had earlier informed them through my lawyers, the human trafficking investigation in my story had commenced prior to my employment with Premium Times. It is disheartening that Aunty Mo could in fact mention that she got the right to my life-story (that has impacted on my life since then in many ways) from my ex-employer.

“Secondly, I am in shock that Aunty Mo would claim that I was contacted prior to the Movie in one breath and in another breath that the story is not about me but about several other faceless journalists who had done what I did but did not publish their experiences. If Ebonylife had given me full disclosure from the beginning, we would not be where we are, at this point. Yes, Oloture is an important film to be made but must be done the right way. A Movie about women victimization cannot end up creating further victimization.

“Oloture is an adaptation of my work and life-story. I experienced the investigation, the process, and the risks, upon which the movie is based. I also single-handedly authored the publication the Movie relied on. The publication of my experience is what gave birth to Oloture. A Movie about sex trafficking does not need to be centered around a journalist and it does not need to play out the plots of my published story. The question is, why is the open credits for the story of Oloture bearing Mo Abudu, Temidayo Abudu, and three others? How ethical is that for an adapted story? Even the alleged end credit, how appropriate is it? This is not the standard practice in the industry and Ebonylife should know better.

“Aunty Mo’s claim that Kenneth Gyang has had to deal with daily and weekly harassments from me is completely false. On October 4th, 2020 Kenneth Gyang confessed in the published Premium Times story that he became aware of the Oloture story, two weeks before the release of the film. A film director, whom I had worked with on a 30 minutes documentary on this same story in 2016, told Kenneth the actual source of the story and had warned him of the consequences.

“Aunty Mo’s claim that I am doing this because of money and because Oloture traveled far is another deliberate attempt at mischief. The question is whether the decision to tag this movie a fiction was a deliberate attempt at maximizing profit? The allusion to the fact that my claim for compensation was outrageous when I am claiming infringement of intellectual property right, shows that a lot needs to be done in terms of re-orientation for the entertainment landscape in Nigeria. My obvious interest had always been to be given appropriate credit for my work, far above the compensatory claim.

“So many women around the world are trafficked as claimed by Aunty Mo, but who else, and I also mean undercover journalists, have same experiences as published before the production of Oloture and as depicted in the movie? Making of a film on exploitation should not itself be exploitative. I almost died (and I saw death) when I took a 7-month long journey to investigate human trafficking. Now, I am going through the ordeal a second time watching my life story on TV, without full credit or compensation and the subsequent campaign of calumny.”

On the money given to her by Abudu, Tobore stated: “I have never asked Aunty Mo for money. Rather, she sent me a message to send my account details for her to send me a token towards my dad’s burial. I did and she subsequently sent me N100,000. My former editor at the Guardian newspaper, Mr. Fred Ohwahwa also sent me some money on hearing my dad had passed on. Several former bosses, and colleagues and people I have never even met came through for me. I was and I am still very grateful to all of them. Having watched the video, I now begin to wonder: The N100,000 sent by Aunty Mo, was it more than a gift? Was it intended to buy my silence when the film would be released?
Set in Lagos, “ÒlòtÚré” tells the story of a young, naïve Nigerian journalist who goes undercover to expose the shady underworld of human trafficking.