Nigerian Copyright Commission accuses MTN Nigeria MD of evading service

The Nigerian Copyright Commission, NCC, has accused Mr Karl Toriola, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (MD/CEO) of MTN Nigeria Communications Ltd. of evading service of court documents in the alleged copyright infringement suit.

The NCC’s lawyer, Gladys Ojo, made the allegation on Tuesday before Justice Inyang Ekwo of a Federal High Court, Abuja.

Justice Ekwo had, on April 29, fixed Tuesday for Toriola and other co-defendants’ to take their plea following his failure to appear in court in the last adjourned date for their arraignment.

The NCC had, in a charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/111/2024, sued MTN Nigeria Communications Ltd; Toriola; MTN Senior Executive Officer, Nkeakam Abhulimen; Fun Mobile Ltd, a telecommunications service provider; and Yahaya Maibe, its CEO as 1st to 5th defendants respectively.

In the three count-count charge dated March 19 and filed March 20 by Emeka Ogbonna on NCC’s behalf, the prosecution alleged that the defendants, between 2010 and 2017, “offered for sale, sold and traded for business, infringed musical works of Maleke Moye, an artiste, without his consent and authorisation.”

The commission alleged that the defendants used Maleke’s musical works and sound recordings with subsisting copyright, known as “caller ring back tunes” without the authorisation of the artiste.

The musical works and sound recordings of the musician allegedly infringed upon include “911, Minimini-Wana Wana, Stop Racism, Ewole, 911 instrumental, Radio, Low Waist, and No Bother.”

The defendants were also alleged to have illegally distributed the musical works to their subscribers, without authorisation, thereby infringing on the rights of the artiste.

In the third count, the defendants were alleged of having in their possession, the musical works and sound recordings of the artiste, other than for their personal or domestic use.

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The copyright commission said the alleged offence is punishable under Section 20 (2) (a) (b) and (c) of the Copyright Act, Cap. C28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

In the last adjourned date, Toriola and Abhulimen were neither in court nor represented by any counsel.

When the case was called on Tuesday, Toriola and Abhulimen were again not in court.

Ojo said although the matter was fixed for arraignment, only Maibe (5th defendant) was in court.

She said all efforts made to personally serve Toriola were unsuccessful.

The lawyer said the MTN MD allegedly refused to be served.

“The last time, we told my lord that we were having issues serving the MTN CEO.

“We sent our officers to the MTN office in Lagos to serve them but we were denied access. We also sent the charge via DHL,” she said.

But Obafemi Agaba, who appeared for 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants (MTN Ltd, Toriola and Abhulimen), told the judge that the MD and Abhulimen were yet to be served with the charges in the suit.

He argued that the rules of the court is that the defendants be served personally in criminal matter, adding that the prosecution “has not applied for substituted service.”

Agaba also drew the attention of the court to his preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court and the competence of the suit.

But Justice Ekwo advised the MTN lawyer to do everything to ensure that his clients are served with the processes.

The judge also told the NCC lawyer that she ought to know the necessary legal steps to take regarding service.

“Nobody can evade service except you don’t know what to do,” the judge told Ojo.

Justice Ekwo, who adjourned the matter until June 27 for arraignment, said: “However, if the court becomes aware of any application that has been filed before that date, parties will receive hearing notices before that date.”

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