Abuja high court grants MTN’s petition against NCC

Onwubuke Melvin
Onwubuke Melvin

The Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday granted the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation the authority to take over and evaluate an alleged copyright infringement case against MTN Nigeria Communications Limited and its CEO, Karl Toriola, in response to a plea filed by the latter.

It was previously reported that MTN Nigeria Communications Limited has petitioned the court to dismiss the action brought against them by the Nigerian Copyright Commission for claimed defects, according to Nairametrics.

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 multiple times due to the absence of the MTN CEO and others who were supposed to be arraigned and enter a plea.

The NCC claimed that MTN and others exploited many soundtracks as callback ringtones without the agreement and license of the copyright owners.

An NCC staff member, Samuel Y. Udowo also testified in court that the Commission investigated a complaint of criminal copyright infringement against the defendants arising from acts such as using Maleke Idowu Moye’s musical works/sound recordings as Caller Ring Back Tunes without his by Nna

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 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

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.

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 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.”

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

She then urged the court to extend the deadline because her office has to review the NCC case file, noting that the AGF has written to the Commission and the Nigerian Police to deliver a report.

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

She responded that she wished to take up the prosecution of the case and requested that the Court reschedule it for another day.

“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.

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