Law News
Hon Justice K.O. Anyah (rtd): The last of the titans begins the final journey

An Ikeja High Court presided over by Justice O. Femi-Adeniyi has awarded a N25 million damages against the Chairman of Board of Directors of Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), Chief Tony Okoroji, in favour of Mr. Mayo Ayilaran of Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria Limited (MCSN) over a defamatory publication credited to COSON’s chairman.

In the judgment delivered after 12 years of litigation, the court also directed Chief Okoroji to pay a sum of N250, 000 as costs of litigation as well as 10% interest per annum to be paid on the judgment, while granting an order of perpetual injunction retraining the defendant from further writing, publishing or causing to be written or published the aforesaid letter or words used therein or similar words defamatory of Mr. Ayilaran.   In his writ of summons dated April 16, 2002, Ayilaran had demanded the sum of N100 million in damages from Okoroji for defaming his character.

Ayilaran had said Chief Okoroji had in a letter dated December 4, 2001 and addressed to Performing Rights Society Limited, United Kingdom with the heading: “PRS Activities in Nigeria: Serving the Interest of the Authors/Composers or Mayo Ayilaran?” copied to the International Federation of Societies of Authors and Composers and the Nigerian Copyright Commission, defamed him by describing him as a ‘dishonest, fraudulent, difficult, problematic and dissatisfied individual.’

During trial, Chief Okoroji did not deny authorship of the said letter; while he also alleged that Ayilaran was facing a criminal charge as a result of the said collection. He also contended that he wrote the said letter in his capacity as the Chairman of Performing and Mechanical Right Society of Nigeria (PMRS).

Justice Femi-Adeniyi held in his judgment that the language used in the letter was not spoken in the heat of an argument or in the prelude to a fight. “The said letter contains three pages of writing carefully divided under subheads and was written in response to letters allegedly written to members of PMRS.

“I find and hold that the words used therein which are disparaging of the claimant are not mere vulgar abuse but that they were used intentionally and with the motive to remove the claimant in favour with the recipients of the letter.

“The defendant has not been able to successfully give lawful justification for the words he has used in relation to the claimant in the said letter to remove him from liability and I so hold.”

Justice Femi-Adeniyi pointed out that Chief Okoroji’s allegations were not supported by any shred of evidence.

“The defendant also alleged that the claimant was facing criminal charges based on the illegality. However, this allegation was not supported by the production of any charge sheet proffered against the claimant as exhibit before the court, or even the proceedings of the criminal prosecution.

Rather, it was the claimant who tendered Exhibit C23, the order striking out the charge against him in the Federal High Court given on June 18, 2002. The defendant tendered exhibits D1 to D3 in proof of his assertion that the claimant was collecting royalties from companies without MCSN being approved to do so.

Reacting to the judgement, Mr Ayilaran stated that the ripple effect of the content of the letter and malice, which the court has established is what is at the roots of the copyright crises being witnessed in the country till date.

He extolled the judge for his erudition, which confirms that the court still is and will remain the last hope of the common man.

He concluded that through the judgement, the lies written and spoken against him in the copyright sector, as exemplified in the findings and decisions of the National Assembly in 2013, have been exposed and fallen like pack of cards.

He expressed hope that the COSON boss will obey the court’s judgement and not to toe the line of impunity which has been the bane in the copyright sector over the years.

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