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Is there a need for an Alternative Dispute Mechanism for Copyright Infringement in Nigeria?

The Nigerian Federal High court recently handed down a judgement in a copyright infringement case thirty years after the initial suit was filed.

For close to 30 years, popular Nigerian afro pop musician King Sunny Ade has been following up on a suit he filed against record manufacturing company African Songs and its subsidiary Take Your Choice Stores in 1975. On November 13 2015 the High Court awarded King Sunny Ade N500 million ($2 500,000) as damages for copyright infringement and N3 Million ($15,000) thousand dollars for costs he incurred in prosecuting the case.

The basis for the dispute arose in 1975 at the expiry of King Sunny Ade five year contract with African Songs to reproduce and sell his work under their record label. At the expiration of his contract, African Songs refused to return to King Sunny Ade the master tapes of his music. After failing to acede to his repeated demands, King Sunny Ade filed a case against Africa Songs .

On hearing the suit, the court granted judgement in King Sunny Ade's favour and ordered the defendants to return the master tapes of the original musical works to King Sunny Ade. Unfortunately before the master tapes could be returned the Chairman CEO of Africa Songs and its subsidiaries Chief Bolarinwa Abioro died.

In a bid to retrieve the master tapes, King Sunny Ade filed another suit against Lati Alagbada, Record Manufacturing Nigeria Limited, Ibukunola Printers, Alhaja Awawu Ade Amodu and M.O. Alagbad before a federal high court in Lagos in 1997. In his suit, King Sunny Ade alleged that Lati Alagbada et al (the Defendants) had been using the master tapes to produce an inferior quality of his musical works and sold them to members of the public depriving him of a means to earn a living off the music. He also asked the court to grant him the sum of N1 billion in damages as well as an order compelling the Defendants to return to him his master tapes as well as restraining them from further infringing on his musical works.

In their defence, the Defendants stated that as King Sunny Ade had been paid royalties by them and that the contract he signed with them did not include returning of the master tape, King Sunny Ade had no rights to the master tapes.

Justice Tsoho in his Judgement in favour of King Sunny Ade ordered the Defendants to pay King Sunny Ade and his band the sum of N500 million as well as return the master tapes to King Sunny Ade as it had been proved beyond reasonable doubt that King Sunny Ade was the owner of the copyright in his musical works.

While the award for damages may come as a triumph against copyright infringement in Nigeria, the judgement may in actual fact serve as a deterring factor for those who may wish to file suit for copyright infringement. The question here is, will rights holders have the patience to wait 30 long years before they get a favourable judgement? While conceding the fact that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria grants the Federal High Court the exclusive Jurisdiction in matters relating to copyright, the snail-pace at which judgements are handed out in copyright cases, desperately calls for an alternative dispute resolution mechanism for copyright infringement in Nigeria.

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