The Lagos Division of the Federal High Court has awarded USD $16.3 million (N5.9 billion) in “special damages” against Multichoice Nigeria Limited. The judgment, which was handed out on Friday 19 January, followed an eight-year-old copyright infringement legal battle between the South African firm and the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN).
The lawsuit had come after MCSN wrote to Multichoice in 2011 demanding $12.7 million (N4.1 billion) as cumulative copyright and royalties for its body of works used by the latter during the airing of its programmes.
Multichoice then brought the Musical Copyright Society to court in seeking a perpetual injunction, restraining the group from asking or demanding them to obtain copyright licence for the broadcast and communication to the public of musical works on the radio and television channels operated and distributed by Multichoice.
This led MCSN to file a counter-claim where they accused Multichoice of copyright infringement on 18 songs in its repertoire. The songs, which the Copyright Society accused Multichoice of using without lawful permission, included UEFA Cup thematic music and UEFA Championship League thematic music.
In his judgement, Justice Mohammed Idris struck out Multichoice’s claims against the defendant. The judge said, “The court having delivered judgment this 19th day of January, 2018, striking out the plaintiff’s claims, it is hereby ordered as follows: That judgment is entered in favour of the defendant/counter-claimant in the following terms: N5,490,652,125 only as special damages.”
In addition, the court also awarded separate sums of USD $555 thousand (N200 million) and USD $857 thousand (N309 million) as general and aggravated damages respectively against Multichoice in favour of the copyright group.
According to Multichoice, MCSN was not licensed or approved by the Nigerian Copyright Commission as a collecting society.
“The defendant to the counter-claim did each of these acts in the course of and to promote their businesses and to make profit without the authority or licence of the counter-claimant and the counter-claimant has suffered loss and damage,” the MCSN had argued in its counter-claim.
“The defendant to the counter-claim bluntly refused or neglected to voluntarily apply for and obtain the permission of the counter-claimant before deploying the musical works of the counter-claimant’s repertoire into the defendant’s broadcasting activities. The defendant has continued to infringe upon the works and has threatened to do so continually unless restrained by this honourable court.”
“By its acts of infringement aforesaid, well knowing that it was thereby infringing the copyright of the counter-claimant, the defendant has acted in flagrant disregard of the rights of the counter-claimant. On this premise, the counter-claimant is entitled to and claim from the defendant additional damages pursuant to Section 16(4) of the Copyright Act 2004,” concluded the claim.