THE Federal High Court, Lagos, has upheld the position of the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) that, in line with the Copyright Act and the Copyright (Collective Management) Regulations, the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) ceased to exist as an approved Collective Management Organisation (CMO) with effect from May 19, 2019 when its operating licence lapsed.
While delivering his ruling in an application for interlocutory injunction brought by COSON in Suit No. FHC/l/CS/425/2020, Hon. Justice A. M. Liman on Wednesday, December 1, 2021 held, among others, that COSON was not entitled to the relief of an injunction to restrain the commission from revoking its operating licence because the said licence that it sought to preserve had lapsed. The court, in refusing the application, aligned with the position canvassed by the commission that COSON did not satisfy the necessary conditions that would have enabled the court to exercise its discretionary powers in its favour.
In the substantive suit filed by COSON in the Federal High Court, Lagos in March 2020 against the Nigerian Copyright Commission, the company is, among other things, seeking a declaration: “For a perpetual injunction to restrain the Commission from taking any steps purporting to revoke the operating licence/approval of COSON or in any way or manner disturbing/continuing to disturb or prevent/continuing to prevent COSON from lawfully enforcing the constitutional rights of its members, affiliates, assignees and reciprocal representation partners or interfering/continuing to interfere with the internal management, operations, funds, audits or bank accounts of COSON or preventing/continuing to prevent COSON, its members, affiliates, assignees and reciprocal representation partners from earning income and sustaining themselves with their Intellectual Property, pending the determination of the suit.”
COSON had also filed a motion for interlocutory injunction to restrain the commission whether by itself or its officials, privies, agents, servants or however called from taking any steps as stated above, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit. It is the said application for interlocutory injunction that the Court disposed of in favour of the commission.
Consequent upon failure to meet the statutory conditions for renewal of its licence, the commission had taken the position that COSON could not legally perform the functions of a CMO, including the granting of copyright licences and collection of royalties on behalf of right owners.
Earlier in its judgment on March 25, 2020, the Federal High Court, Lagos presided over by Hon. Justice Saliu Saidu, in Suit No. FHC/L/CS/274/2010 (Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria Ltd/Gte. v. Copyright Society of Nigeria Ltd/Gte.), had made an order restraining COSON from using or continuing to use the name “Copyright Society of Nigeria Ltd/Gte”.
The company, thereafter, filed a notice of appeal against the judgment and brought a motion on notice for stay of execution of the judgment, pending the hearing and determination of the appeal. The same Federal High Court, on June 24, 2020, refused to grant the application for stay of execution, holding that there was nothing to stay, saying the relief granted being essentially of a declaratory in nature.
In light of the judgment and rulings, the Nigerian Copyright Commission is treating the status of COSON as being in abeyance until the subscribers take steps to regularise its corporate existence under the Companies and Allied Matters Act. The Commission will also continue to treat the operating licence earlier granted to COSON (by whatever name called) as having expired.
For the avoidance of doubt, section 39(4) and (5) of the Copyright Act makes it an offence for any group of persons to purport to perform the duties of a collecting society without the approval of the Commission.
According to a stament signed by the Director of Public Affairs of NCC, Mr. Vincent Oyefeso, ”The public, owners of music copyright and users of music are hereby advised to take note of the current status of COSON (by whatever name called) as an unapproved collective management organisation or collecting society and be well guided. The Commission will, henceforth, enforce the criminal provisions of the Copyright Act and any persons having dealings with COSON (by whatever name called) or any of its officials would be doing so at their own risk. Users of copyright works are also advised to report any further demand for royalty payment from any person or group of persons in the name of COSON to the Nigerian Copyright Commission.”