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Alleged copyright infringement: Absence of MTN boss, 2 others stalls arraignment

The arraignment of the MTN Nigeria Communications Ltd; its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (MD/CEO), Karl Toriola; over alleged copyright infringement, was, on Monday stalled in a Federal High Court, Abuja.

The others are MTN Senior Executive Officer, Nkeakam Abhulimen, Fun Mobile Ltd., a telecommunications service provider; and Yahaya Maibe, its CEO.

The matter, which was fixed for the suspects to take their plea, could not go on shortly after the case was called due to the absence of Toriola and Abhulimen in court.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) also observed that Toriola and Abhulimen were not represented in court by counsel.

However, while MTN Nigeria Communications Ltd. was represented by Obafemi Ajaba, Fun Mobile and Maibe were represented by Abdullateef Afolabi.

Abdul Kohol, a lawyer and former acting Director-General of NCC, together with Zino Ugboma, said they were in court to watch brief for the nominal complainant, Maleke Moye, who was also in court.

The Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) had, in a charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/111/2024, sued MTN Nigeria Communications Ltd., Toriola, Abhulimen, Fun Mobile Ltd and Maibe as 1st to 5th defendants respectively.

In the three charges dated March 19 and filed March 20 by Emeka Ogbonna on NCC’s behalf, the prosecution alleged that the defendants, between 2010 and 2017, “offered for sale, sold and traded for business, infringed musical works of Maleke Moye, an artiste, without his consent and authorisation.”

The commission alleged that the defendants used Maleke’s musical works and sound recordings with subsisting copyright, known as “caller ring back tunes” without the authorisation of the artiste.

The musical works and sound recordings of the musician allegedly infringed upon include 911, Minimini-Wana Wana, Stop Racism, Ewole, 911 instrumental, Radio, Low Waist, and No Bother.

The defendants were also alleged to have illegally distributed the musical works to their subscribers, without authorisation, thereby infringing on the rights of the artiste.

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In the third count, the defendants were alleged to have in their possession, the musical works and sound recordings of the artiste, other than for their personal or domestic use.

The copyright commission said the alleged offence is punishable under Section 20 (2) (a) (b) and (c) of the Copyright Act, Cap. C28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

When the matter was called on Monday, Toriola and Abhulimen were neither in court nor represented by a lawyer.

Ogbonna, who appeared for the prosecution, told the court that the matter was supposed to be for the arraignment of the defendants.

The lawyer, who informed the court that the commission had investigated them, said most of them were already on administrative bail.

He said though the expectation was that all of them would be in court today, Ogbonna however sought an adjournment to enable them do the needful

“If they don’t come willingly, we know what to do to bring them before the court,” he said.

Ajaba, who appeared for the 1st defendant (MTN), however, told the court that only the company was served the court documents as far as they knew.

The lawyer said that they had filed a motion on notice on April 26, challenging the jurisdiction of the court to proceed on the matter as presently constituted.

Ajaba said the firm sought an order striking out the charge for beng incurably defective and incapable of activating the jurisdiction of the court.

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Giving two grounds, he said the 1st defendant was not a juristic person, and therefore robbed the court the requisite jurisdiction to entertain any proceeding with respect to the applicant.

Besides, the lawyer argued that the signature on the charge herein being the originating process in the criminal action cannot be traced or ascribed to any legal practitioner authorised to practice law in Nigeria contrary to the clear statement of the law as enunciated by the Supreme Court.

But Justice Ekwo rhetorically asked Ajaba if he had studied the provision of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) in respect of raising objection.

The judge, who said that the prosecution had already applied for a date for plea, adjourned the matter until May 14 for arraignment.(NAN)

Taiye Agbaje
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