The Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN) during the week failed in the bid to nullify charges against its principal officers now standing trial for performing the duties of a collecting society without approval of the Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC) contrary to Section 39 of the Copyright Act.
While hearing the matter, Hon Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos ruled that all the affected officers must stand trial for the criminal charges brought against them by the NCC. Lawyer to Mayo Ayilaran, Lous Udoh, Halim Mohammed, Banjo Omolara, Yusuf Adogi Benson and Kayode Ajayi had argued that the trial of these officers was nothing but an abuse of court processes.
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Delivering a ruling in charge No FHC/IKJ/CS/19/2012: NCC vs. MCSN, Mayowa Ayilaran, Louis Udoh, Halim Mohammed, Banjo Omolara Biliqis, Yusuf Adogi Benson and Olakayode Ajayi, on Wednesday 27th November 2013, the judge held that the filing of three separate charges against MCSN and its officers was not an abuse of court process as claimed by the accused persons and that the charges were properly filed by the NCC. The judge held that the application of the accused persons challenging the charges preferred against them was misconceived. He held that all the allegations in the different charges were different and that there is no iota of abuse of court process in the charges saying that the charges are not defective in any way.
It will be recalled that following the arrest of officers of MCSN on September 18, 2012 and subsequent investigation into their activities, the Nigerian Copyright Commission filed 6 different charges against MCSN and its officials in Lagos. In each of the charges, MCSN and its officials were accused of performing the duties of a collecting society without the approval of the NCC contrary to Section 39 of the Copyright Act. Each charge disclosed that MCSN performed the duties of a collecting Society by demanding royalties from a particular company and carrying on the business of soliciting and granting of licenses on behalf of Copyright owners without the approval of the Nigerian Copyright Commission and thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under section 39 (4), (5) and (6) of the Nigerian Copyright Act Cap C 28 LFN 2004.
MCSN and each of the accused persons pleaded not guilty to the charge. The accused persons then filed a motion challenging the charges preferred against them. In the application, they argued that the charges where bad in law claiming that the Commission should not have filed several charges against them. They therefore urged the court to either strike out the charge or stay the hearing of the charge until the other charges were determined.
Prosecuting counsel, Mr. Obi Ezeilo on the other hand argued that the charges against the accused were not bad for duplicity in the sense that each time the accused persons demanded and collected royalty for usage of musical works without the approval of the Commission, a separate offence is committed.
On the issue of the constitutionality of Section 39 of the Copyright Act also raised by lawyers to the accused, Mr. Ezeilo urged the Court to dismiss their application because Section 39 of the Copyright Act is not unconstitutional. He added that the same Federal High Court presided over by Justice Mohammed Sanni in another suit brought by the same MCSN against NCC had held that Section 39 of the Copyright Act is constitutional. The NCC prosecutor further stated that the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in Compact Disc Technologies vs. MCSN also took the position that Section 39 of the Copyright Act is not unconstitutional and that MCSN ought to comply with that provision. Mr. Ezeilo urged the court to follow the decisions of the superior courts.
Following the ruling, the case was adjourned to January 16, 20 and 22, 2014 for hearing. In court for the accused persons during the ruling was Mr. Charles Okoh of Wale Adesokan and Co.