By Ogbonna Amadi and Innocent Anaba
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, has awarded N40million as damages, against the Nigeria Copyrights Commission, NCC, its Director General, Assistant Director, Mr Amodu Alewu; Mr Henry Njoku and Inspector General of Police over the raid on Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria Ltd, MCSN on December 14, 2007.
Officers of MCSN, Mr Mayo Ayilaran, Mr Orits Williki, Mr Louis Udoh and Mr Halim Mohammed were also arrested and detained during the raid.
Trial judge, Justice Charles Achibong, held that the action of the defendants was unlawful, unwarranted and in breach of the applicants fundamental rights.
On the issue of whether MCSN was a copy rights collecting agency, the court said “the offence of purporting to perform the duties of a society without the approval of the
Copyright Commission created by section 39 of the Copyright Act, cannot and does not relate to the activities of owners, assignees and exclusive licenses of copyright and I hold so.
“Any provision of any statute that in any way seeks to curb the enjoyment of property rights, to subjugate or distract from same without discernible purpose other than the registration and monitoring of same is unconstitutional and so I hold”.
Any statutory provision that seeks to criminalize the purposeful protection of property rights by those in whom such rights are vested is unconstitutional, null and void and so I hold. Whatever else it seeks to do, the provisions of section 39 of the Copyright Act do not seek to hinder, encumber or restrict or exclusive licensees of copyright, no does it intend to criminalize such private enforcement.
“And to the extent the Act suggests such criminalization, it is unconstitutional, null and void. The Copyrights was established to reinforce the rights of copyright owners, assignees and licensees, not to be an institutional hurdle with arbitrary power to restrict the private enjoyment and enforcement of such rights. Copyright owners do not exit at the pleasure of the Copyright Commission or merely to validate its establishment and most definitely the Copyright Commission was not established to undermine, denigrate or exact obeisance from copyright owner,” the court held.
The court also granted the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs, including that the continued threats of detention, harassment and intimidation by the respondents is unlawful, unwarranted and in breach of their fundamental rights as specified in the statement in support filed by the Applicants.
It also ordered that Mr Ayilaran and Mr Mohammed shall not be arrested or further arrested or detained by the respondents or any of its officers or agents unless it is for the purposes of taking them to Court within a reasonable time and unless a proper and complete investigation has been carried out and the Applicants are reasonably suspected to the guilty of a criminal offence.
The court awarded N20million, against the respondents (jointly and severally) in the sum of N20million for the unlawful disruption and interference in its business of exploitation of its property.
It also ordered the respondents to apologise to Mr Ayilaran, Mr Williki and Mr Mohammed for their unlawful arrest and/or detention.
The court also awarded N20million compensation against the respondents (jointly and severally) only for the unlawful arrest and detention of the applicants.
The court further said, “I find that to be the tone and purpose of the 1st Respondent’s many interventions in the affairs of the Applicant detailed herein.
It is for the Copyright Commission to justify the denial of an owner, assignee of exclusive licencee of its approval as a collecting society in the light of the Constitutional prerogatives attached to the enjoyment of property rights.
It is not for the Copyright Commission to hound persons, corporate or otherwise, that are legitimately, and constitutionally protecting their proprietary interests. Copyright Commission and its principal officers should not be in the business of subverting the property rights of copyright owners. I am persuaded that they have been doing exactly that in their dealings with the Applicants herein.
“I grant the applicants the declaration sought, the order sought, the compensation sought and the further compensation sought and the further compensation sought for Mr Ayilaran and Mr Mohammed,” the court held.