Recently, Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) went to court asking the Federal High Court to restrain the Federal Government owned FRCN from further broadcast of music on any of FRCN’s 42 radio stations across Nigeria. In quick succession, COSON followed the FRCN suit with a 16 Billion Naira court action against telecommunication giant MTN. Shortly after, within the last week, COSON fired a new 11 Billion Naira action against Etisalat, another telecommunications conglomerate. Some may wonder what is behind these unprecedented legal fireworks being activated by the no-nonsense Nigerian organization called COSON.
To clear the air and state the foundation of the historic legal tussle now waged on multiple fronts by the rampaging lawyers to the nation’s sole approved copyright collective management organization for musical works and sound recordings, COSON Chairman, Chief Tony Okoroji was for one hour on NTA’s “Close Flow” this past weekend. Chief Okoroji took questions from host, Fola Martins and many other Nigerians who called in to speak to the one time President of PMAN and one of Africa’s most celebrated intellectual property strategists.
On NTA, Chief Okoroji revealed that more of such legal actions are coming and that the organizations that are being targeted are aware as they have all been notified. According to Okoroji, what COSON is doing is critical to the survival of the Nigerian nation. In his words, “in the new knowledge, creative or digital economy, if Nigeria does not imbibe and internalize the concept of intellectual property, promote and defend that concept, it does not matter how many national economic conferences we have, it does not matter how many Federal Executive Council meetings we hold, our economy will not thrive”.
Chief Okoroji explained that there is not one organization that COSON has taken to court that COSON has not made stringent efforts to peacefully engage with or negotiate with over a long period. According to the copyright man, “it is only when we hit a brick wall that we take the issues to the courts and ask for the intervention of a judge who by law is supposed to be an independent arbiter with the knowledge and training to examine the facts and apply the law. We do not resort to cutlasses or machetes. We follow the process provided for in a democracy.
“The national economy is the aggregate of the productivity of the people who operate within that economic space. The productivity is a function of the values we attach to the products of the work done. Nigerian music and movies are in great demand across the world. Everybody wants our music, movies and literature but everybody appears to want them for free – individuals, government agencies, broadcasting organizations, hotels, telecommunication companies, advertising agents, students, etc. What it means is that there is no value placed on these intellectual products in our nation despite the huge efforts and investment put into making them. By our attitude, we do not hurt just the individual intellectual property owner, we hurt the entire national economy. If we do not understand the consequences of what we are doing, our efforts to boost the national economy will be in vain.
“At COSON, we are determined, committed and resolved to stamping out the era of “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop” from the Nigerian music industry and establish a transparent and accountable industry in which everyone who invests his or her talent or resources can rest assured that his or her investment will be fully protected. We will not buckle under pressure from anyone no matter how highly placed. We have sued a corporation owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria. We have gone to court against a State government. We have had to sue Nigeria’s biggest bank, wrestle in court with Nigeria’s biggest hotel and broadcast networks. At COSON, we verily believe that no one is above the law.
“At COSON, we are resolute that the labour of Nigerian musicians and investors in the music industry who toil every day to make people happy will no longer be in vain. They cannot make people happy and be sad themselves. Anyone intending to exploit their sweat to serve his own purpose has COSON to deal with. We are not just fighting for individuals, we are fighting for the Nigerian nation. The recent crash in the price of crude oil should make it clear to everyone that our nation must change course. We can no longer afford to anchor the future of our children and grandchildren on the vagaries of the crude oil market. Our music, movies in great demand everywhere in the world must count for something. They should contribute significantly to the nation’s GDP and provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of our citizens. We surely cannot continue with the free-for all mass photocopying of whole books in Nigerian universities and other institutions which has destroyed our publishing industry. The era of monkey dey work, baboon dey chop should be over. Is this not the period of change? Yes, we have asked COSON lawyers to go on ‘rampage’. Our brief to them is clear: there will be no untouchables and no sacred cows; no retreat, no surrender”.