Copyright infringement: MTN petition succeeds as Court allows AGF to takeover NCC’s case against CEO, Karl Toriola

Story Highlights

  • The Federal High Court in Abuja has permitted the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to assume control of a copyright infringement case involving MTN Nigeria Communications Limited and its CEO, Karl Toriola.
  • The case, initiated by the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), alleges the unauthorized use of soundtracks as callback ringtones by MTN without the consent of the original owners.
  • MTN filed a petition to the AGF requesting a takeover of the case, arguing that it was aimed at unfairly targeting and harming the company’s reputation and financial stability.

The Federal High Court Abuja on Monday has allowed the Office of the Attorney General of the federation to take over and review an alleged copyright infringement case against MTN Nigeria Communications Limited and its CEO, Karl Toriola based on a petition from the latter.

Nairametrics previously reported that MTN Nigeria Communications Limited had asked the court to strike out the case instituted against it by the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) for allegedly being defective.

The case, marked FHC/ABJ/CR/111/2024, was filed by the NCC against MTN Nigeria Communications Limited; Karl Toriola, Chief Executive Officer of MTN Nigeria; Nkeakam Abhulimen; Fun Mobile Limited; and Yahaya Maibe.

The case was adjourned several times following the non-appearance of the MTN CEO and others, who were scheduled to be arraigned and take their plea.

NCC’s Case and MTN’s response

The NCC had alleged that MTN and others used several soundtracks as callback ringtones without the consent and authorization of the original owners.

A staff member of the NCC, Samuel Y. Udowo, also deposed before the court that the Commission investigated a complaint of criminal copyright infringement against the defendants arising from acts that include the usage of the musical works/sound recordings of Maleke Idowu Moye as Caller Ring Back Tunes without his consent and authorization.

He added that the investigation revealed that the defendants had indeed committed some copyright offenses, requiring some form of penalties.

But MTN’s lawyer, Obafemi Agaba filed a motion against NCC, asking the court to decline jurisdiction on the matter.

MTN files petition to OAGF

While the NCC case was pending, Jackson, Etti & Edu, acting as Solicitors to MTN Nigeria Communications Plc, Kari Toriola and another, asked the AGF to take over the case from the NCC, citing moves by Maleke Idowu Moye and the Commission to “embarrass” the CEO, smear MTN’s reputation and destabilize the company’s business including its share price.

MTN told the OAGF that Maleke had been financially settled in the past before the time of Karl Toriola, and it had also “discontinued the use of all the songs” since 2017.

The solicitors urged the OAGF to examine the NCC’s matter so as to “prevent the abuse of legal process.”.

MTN petition seen by Nairametrics partly reads,

It is our humble submission that the facts enumerated above will reveal that the present criminal Charge against MTNN, Its CEO and a Junior officer is calculated to harass, embarrass, and force the hands of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Defendants to do the bidding of the Nominal complainant (Mr. Maleke) by paying several hundreds of millions of naira for alleged acts of infringement that took place when the 2nd and 3rd Defendants were not in charge or responsible for the affairs of MTNN.

“The prosecution of this case and the trial of MTNN’S CEO will erode the corporate image of MTNN and deplete its profitability thereby affecting its share price, the Nigerian stock market, and taxes payable to the Federal Government by the company.”

In letter to the Court dated June 19, 2024, the Director of Public Prosecutions of the Federation, OAGF, stated that “After a careful consideration of the petition and in line with the provisions of Section 174 (1) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice has taken over the prosecution of CHARGE NO: FHC/ABJ/CR/111/2024 BETWEEN NIGERIAN COPYRIGHT COMMISSION V. MTN NIGERIA COMMUNICATIONS, KARL OLUKOTUN TORIOLA, NKEAKAM ABHULIMEN, FUN MOBILE LIMITED, YAHAYA MAIBE from the Nigerian Copyright Commission.”

What transpired in court

At the resumed proceedings on Monday, Aderonke Imana, Esq, counsel for the AGF, told Justice Inyang Ekwo that though the matter was slated for plea, however, she has the instruction of the Attorney General of the Federation to take over the matter this morning pursuant to his constitutional powers.

She then urged the court to give a further date because there is a need for her office to do a review of the NCC case file, adding the AGF has written to the Commission and the Nigerian Police to send a report.

“I have also written to this Court,” She added.

What do you want now? Ekwo responded.

She replied that she wanted to take over the prosecution of the case and wanted the Court to adjourn the matter to another date.

Ekwo asked her to mention the date she wanted because “I do not want you to come back and give an excuse one way or the other.”

Imana then applied for 10th October 2024.

“Upon the application of the Learned Counsel for the Prosecution, I make an Order adjourning this case to 10th October 2024, for Plea, ” Justice Ekwo ruled.

It is now within the purview of the AGF to either continue the case or discontinue it in line with the allegations of the MTN contained in its petition.



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