Tuesday 2 June 2020

Copyright Commission, CSOs lock horns over withdrawal of 'criminal charge' against NB Plc

(From left) Kufre Ekanem, Corporate Affairs Adviser, Nigerian Breweries Plc; Ruth Osime, Editor, ThisDay Style; Mrs. Ngozi Princewill-Utchay, CEO, Artelier Lifestyle Consultants; Chidike Oluaoha, Senior Brand Manager, Amstel Malta; at the official launching of Amstel Malta’s new campaign, Why Add More held in Lagos. Pic: c/o Internet source.

By Simeon Mpamugoh

UNDER the aegis of Coalition for the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights (CPIPR), a group consisting of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) has issue to settle with the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC).

The CPIPR has given NCC seven days to furnish it with information and documents pursuant to Section 1 (1) of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2011 regarding the prosecution of Charge No. FHC/ABJ/ CR/163/2017- Nigeria Copyright Commission vs. Nigeria Breweries Plc & Anor.

In a letter signed by Barrister Sunday Adaji, Executive Director of Care for Legal Assistance and Human Rights Protection (CLAHRP) and leader of the CPIPR, which was addressed to the Director-General of the Commission, Mr. John Asein, and made available to the press, the group alleged: “That in August, 2015 one Paul Allen Oche, an author, submitted a proposal titled The Amstel Factor to the Amstel Malta Brand Manager of Nigerian Breweries Plc at its corporate office in  Iganmu, Lagos for consideration as a new campaign.

“Without any response from the  addressee, he subsequently resent electronic copies of the  presentation to Samson Oloche, a top-level staff of the company in February, 2016 via his email address who promised to get back to our client. Unfortunately, the said Oloche did not respond, even after our client reached out to him twice for feedback.”

CPIPR noted that in October of the same year Oche  discovered that Nigerian Breweries Plc had come up with a new campaign, which allegedly was an adaptation of The Amstel Factor campaign he had earlier submitted.

In the letter, the Coalition further explained: "On the 27th of February, 2017 our client formally complained to the NCC in Abuja about the unlawful utilization and infringement on his intellectual property by Nigerian Breweries Plc for their 2016 Amstel Malta 'Why Add More Campaign.'

”A round-table meeting was arranged by the NCC in which  Nigerian Breweries Plc and our client were in attendance. At the said meeting the Nigerian Breweries Plc’s Legal & Intellectual Property Manager, Kunle Adaramola, claimed that the “Why Add More” campaign was developed by DDB South Africa, a South African-based  branding agency contracted by Nigerian Breweries Plc“.

It stated that NCC’s private investigation and comparison of both campaigns revealed  evidence of infringement on the author’s work pursuant to Section 20 (1) (a) of the Copyright Act Cap C28 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004; adding  that the Commission filed a Two Count Criminal Charge against Nigerian Breweries Plc at the Federal High Court Abuja, which was presided over by Honourable Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo and via Charge No: FHC/ABJ/CR/163/2017.  “A civil action with Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/145/2019 was also instituted by our client in January, 2019 against Nigerian Breweries Plc and three other parties“ the group added.

The group pointed out that in May, 2019, Mrs. Gladys Isaac-Ojo, the Lead Prosecuting Counsel for the NCC who was handling Oche’s case informed him that her boss Mr. Obi Ezeilo wanted to see him, adding that at the meeting Ezeilo notified him that he was posted from the Lagos Office to be the new Director of Prosecution. “He also informed our client that the Commission had a new Director-General (DG) in the person of John Asein and disclosed that he had wanted to meet with our client on the matter but unforeseen contingencies were always getting in the way.

“Ezeilo however stated that he had met with the Nigerian Breweries Plc and  reviewed our client’s case with the Director-General of NCC, saying that there was no criminal infringement. He added that the Commission was going to withdraw the charge against Nigerian Breweries Plc on grounds that it was not necessary for the matter to have gone to court in the first place. In closing, he advised our client to go and pursue his civil action against Nigerian Breweries Plc, “ the group stated.

The group claimed that the Nigerian Copyright Commission subsequently withdrew the Criminal Charge it instituted against the company on 21st of October, 2019. without officially informing the author who was the nominal complainant. Hence, the letter urging NCC to furnish it with reason for declining prosecution of the case, having earlier carried out investigation and concluded that there was "indeed a prima facie case indicating copyright infringement' on the author's work."

The information sought also include date of the said meeting between Mr. Ezeilo of the NCC and Nigerian Breweries Plc; venue, names of persons in attendance, minutes of the meeting, the convener thereof.

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