Commercial Law

Appeal court reserves judgment in N703m Copyright infringement suit against Airtel,NUC

By Olalekan Awojodu

Abuja

The Court of Appeal in Abuja Thursday reserved judgment in the two appeals by Zain Nigeria Ltd (now Airtel) and National Universities Commission (NUC).

In the appeal, the duo was challenging the award of N703 million to TV Xtra Production as damages for infringing on its copyright.

After the lawyers adopted their briefs, a three-member panel of justices presided over by Justice Stephen Adah reserved judgement in the suit.

Earlier,  Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja had on May 6, 2020 awarded the sum of N700 million to TV Xtra in both special and general damages and N3 million cost of the suit, after it found that Zain and NUC aired a programme designed by TV Xtra without permission in 2009.

In his argument at the appeals, counsel to NUC, Solomon Akuma, SAN, and Zain, Rotimi Oguneso, SAN, both urged the Court of Appeal to nullify the judgment of the high court for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that the suit was brought after three months of the cause of action and was statuette barred.

NUC contended that the high court under Justice Ekwo erred in law which occasioned a miscarriage of justice when it failed to give it opportunity to defend the case when it started de novo, adding that it was not given opportunity to cross examine two witnesses after the court adopted the evidence given in the previous trial court presided by Justice Gabriel Kolawole.

But counsel to TV Xtra, Okechukwu Uju-Azorji called for the dismissal of the appeals.

According to Uju-Azorji, the parties were given adequate time to defend the matter at the high court but failed to do so.

TV Xtra Production’s CEO and General Editor, Arise News, Christian Ojorovwu Ogodo, who designed and registered the quiz programme, ‘University Challenge’ with the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) and presented it to NUC for Nigerian schools, told the court that he was surprised to see the programme being aired on televisions by NUC and Zain four weeks after he made the presentation to the NUC.

Zain Nigeria in its defence contended that TV Xtra is not the original owner of the programme, explaining that the idea was picked from a similar programme, the British Universities Challenge.

But Justice Ekwo ruled that the defendants misunderstood the case of 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.

He added that airing the programme on AIT and 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,” the judge said.

“I find that the case of the plaintiff succeeds on the merit. I make an order entering judgement on the terms of the claims,” he concluded.

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