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Appellate Court delays judgment on N703m Airtel, media firm copyright suit

By News Desk,

The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja has held on to judgment in the appeals filed by Zain Nigeria Ltd (now Airtel) and National Universities Commission (NUC) challenging the award of N703 million damages to a media firm, TV Xtra Production, over infringement on its copyright.

Before keeping the case in abeyance, the three-man judges allowed counsels to each party to adopt their briefs in the appeal brought before the court over a disagreement on damages awarded by a High court.

The three-man panel of Justices led by Justice Stephen Adah on Thursday announced that it would reserve judgement with an assurance that their case would be decided soon.

This development came eight months after a Federal High Court presided over by Justice Inyang Ekwo awarded the sum of N700 million to TV Xtra, the plaintiff, in both special and general damages and N3 million cost of the suit, after ruling that Zain and NUC aired a programme designed by TV Xtra without permission about 12 years ago, 2009.

During proceedings at the court, counsel to NUC, Solomon Akuma, and Zain, Rotimi Oguneso, both argued that the damages awarded by the high court be nullified and other rulings set aside for lack of jurisdiction.

They both alleged that the suit was brought before the court by the claimant after three months of the cause of action and was statuette barred.

NUC contended that the high court, in its judgement, erred in law which occasioned a miscarriage of justice when it failed to give it an opportunity to defend the case when it started de novo, adding that it was not given an opportunity to cross-examine two witnesses after the court adopted the evidence given in the previous trial court presided by Justice Gabriel Kolawole.

After watching counsels to the defendants arguing in favour of their clients, the lawyer to TV Xtra, Okechukwu Uju-Azorji urged the court to dismiss the appeals, arguing that the parties were given adequate time to defend the matter at the high court but failed to do so.

TV Xtra Production’s CEO and General Editor Arise News, Christian Ogodo, who designed and registered the quiz programme, ‘University Challenge’ with the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) and presented it to NUC for Nigerian schools told the court that he was surprised when he saw the programme being aired on televisions by NUC and Zain four weeks after he made the presentation to the NUC.

Zain Nigeria in its defence contended that TV Xtra was not the original owner of the programme, adding that the idea was picked from a similar programme, the British Universities Challenge.

Ekwo, meanwhile, ruled that the defendants misunderstood the case of plaintiff who was seeking remedy for his work, not in any other part of the world, but registered in Nigeria and which existed at the time it was aired in Nigeria. He added that airing the programme on African Independent Television (AIT) and Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) without the permission of the author violated sections 2(a) (1), 6 (1) (a) (1) and 8 of the Copyrights Act.

“The law is that a work in Nigeria is the exclusive right of the owner to control the reproduction of the work in any material form and making adaptations of the work going by Section 6(1) (a) (1) and 8 of the Copyright Act,” the judge said.

“I find that the case of the plaintiff succeeds on the merit. I make an order entering judgement on the terms of the claims,” he said.

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