Copyright Infringement: Musician kicks as AGF takes over MTN criminal trial


A musician, Maleke Moye has alleged injustice in the directive by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, for a take over of the ongoing trial of MTN Nigeria and its CEO, over alleged copyright Infringement.

The musician said that the minister’s directive for the prosecuting agency, Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC), to hands off the trial and forward the case file to his (AGF) office portends impending dangerous precedence.

Moye’s position is contained in a press release issued by his lawyer, Rockson Igelige, which was made available to newsmen on Saturday in Abuja.

It will be recalled that NCC filed criminal charges against MTN Nigeria Communications Ltd, Karl Toriola, its Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Nkeakam Abhulimen, Fun Mobile Ltd. and Yahaya Maibe alleging copyright infringement.

In the three-count charge, before a Federal High Court, Abuja, NCC alleged that the defendants, between 2010 and 2017 ‘offered for sale, sold and traded for business”, infringed
musical works of Moye without his consent and authorisation.

The commission alleged that the defendants used musical works and sound recordings of Moye with subsisting copyright, as Caller Ring Back Tunes, without the authorisation of the artiste.

According to NCC, the alleged offences are contrary to and punishable under Section 20 (2) (a) (b) and (c) of the Copyright Act, Cap. C28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

At the last hearing in the trial before Justice Inyang Ekwo on June 15, NCC prosecution lawyer, Gladys Ojo had accused MTN Nigeria’s CEO, Toriola, of evading service of court documents

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However, in a letter dated June 19, referenced DPPA/JACK/271/24, the AGF, through the office of the Director of Public Prosecution, directed the NCC to ‘promptly’ hands off the trial, forward the case file and court processes to his office.

According to the AGF, the decision was taken, following a petition by MTN Nigeria and its CEO, and in l
ine with Section 174 (1) (b) of the1999 Constitution, relating to entry of ‘Nolle Prosecui’ in a criminal matter.

The section provides: ‘The Attorney-General of the Federation shall have power – (b) to take over and continue any such criminal proceedings that may have been instituted by any other authority or person.’

Section 174 (3) further provides that, ‘In exercising his powers, the Attorney-General of the Federation shall have regard to the public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process’.

In a copy of the petition by the MTN Nigeria to the AGF, dated May 14, obtained by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the company alleged that the charge was constituted to smear and embarrass MTN and its CEO.

MTN through its lawyer, Ogden Alade contended that the criminal charge was calculated to ‘harass embarrass and force the hands of its clients to do the bidding of the musician by paying hundreds of million of Naira for alleged act of infringement’

MTN said it complied w
ith the provision of applicable laws in the musician songs and did not connive with any person to defraud or violate the right of the musician

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The company added that it had indicated its goodwill and readiness to settle the case amicably under just and fair circumstances without undue pressure and influence, as well as prejudice to its rights and defence.

MTN said there is an ongoing civil suit on the alleged copyright infringement where the musician is seeking damages of N500 million, before another Federal High Court.

‘The prosecution of the case and trial of MTN and its CEO will erode the corporate image of MTN and depletes its profitability, thereby affecting its share price in the Nigeria’s stock market and taxes payable to the Federal Government by the company.

‘It will also discourage foreign investment for fear of harassment

‘It is in the light of this, that we wish to crave the kind indulgence of your good office in critically examining this
matter and exercising your powers under Section 174 of the 1999 Constitution in the overall interest of justice and to prevent abuse of legal process,’ the letter read in part.

Reacting to the decision of the AGF to the MTN petition, the musician alleged that the minister used his office ‘as a tool for oppression against an ordinary Nigerian’.

‘While we concede that the AGF is empowered under the law as the Chief Law Officer, to discontinue any criminal trial, we also know that the sacred trust vested in the AGF must not be abused.

‘The responsibility of entering a ‘nolle prosequi’ must actually be exercised justifiably.

‘Sadly in this instance, there is no justification, whatsoever, for the AGF to thwart the prosecution of MTN.

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‘The case, indeed, serves the crucial purpose of giving justice to Mr Moye who has expended time resources and energy to create a work of art which MTN and its cronies have willfully stolen and appropriated the income t
o themselves,’ Moye’s lawyer said.

He called on the AGF to allow justice to take its course and direct MTN to present its case in court.

According to him, doing otherwise would suggest that the AGF did not trust the Federal High Court, where the matter is pending, to do justice in the case.

Source: News Agency of Nigeria