UNFINISHED BUSINESS: Abioro’s family drags KSA to Supreme Court
…Over 48 Yr-Old copyright war
Call it unfinished legal war and you are not wrong. African Songs Limited, (ASL) and its sister company, Take Your Choice Records Stores Limited, (TYC), founded by the late Chief Bolarinwa Abioro, have headed to the Supreme Court seeking justice over an alleged breach of copyright contract agreement it entered into some 48 years ago with juju music maestro, King Sunny Ade and his Green Spot Band, (now known as African beats).
In the suit, TYC and its sister company, ASL, are claiming that the copyright agreement duly entered into on October 6, 1970 between African Songs Limited and King Sunny Ade and his band is still valid and subsisting; a claim King Sunny Ade had challenged in court.
In suit No FHC/L/CS/196/97: King Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye V. African Songs limited & others, King Sunny Ade had sought some reliefs as general damages against African songs Limited over what he claimed as breach of contract and for the continuous infringement of the copyright in his musical works / Songs, asking the court to grant him a sum of N1 Billion as general damages.
He also sought an order of court asking the defendants jointly and severally to deliver to him all the copies of the photographs or likeness of King Sunny Ade in their possession.
In a judgment of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos delivered in suit No FHC/L/CS/196/9 King Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye Vs African Songs Limited & others on November 12, 2015, Justice J.T Tsoho granted some of the reliefs sought by King Sunny Ade awarding damages of N500,000,000.00 against African Songs Limited and its subsidiary TYC, now being managed by Late Chief Abioro’s son, Mr. Abubarkar Abioro as the managing Director.
The judgment was promptly challenged at the court of Appeal in Lagos in Suit No CA/L/329/2016, filed on February 2, 2016 and was heard on November 9, 2018 before justices Tom Shaibu Yakubu, Biobele Abraham Georgewill and Abimbola Osarague Obaseki Adejumo, all of the Court of Appeal Lagos judicial Division.
In the suit, African songs limited and Take Your Choice Records Stores Limited asked the appellate court to quash the judgment of the lower court and grant its own relief.
The Appellants sought a declaration that the copyright in all the musical works, which are composed by the respondent pursuant to the agreement made on 6th October, 1970 between African Songs Limited and King Sunny Ade and his band still subsists in the Appellants Company.
They also sought a declaration that the action instituted by the Respondent as plaintiff in the lower court in this case seeking and obtaining an order of injunction restraining Appellant’s company from exercising the rights incidental to the ownership of the copyright in all the musical works produced by the Respondent pursuant to the agreement of 6th October 1970 is an abuse of judicial process undertaken to the prejudice and financial loss of the Appellants company.
The appellant company asked the court to grant it a sum of N500,000,000.00 being damages suffered between 1997 and 2013 and until the final judgment arising from the respondent’s resort to and obtaining an order of injunction which they knew or ought to know constitutes an abuse of court process.
However, in his defense at the Appeal, Respondent, King Sunny Ade said that he had for himself and on behalf of other members of the music group known then as “Green Spot Band” sometime in 1970 entered into an agreement with the Appellant company to produce, reproduce and sell certain musical works of his musical group, which were contained in some master tapes for a period of five years only, commencing from October 5, 1970, but upon the expiration of the agreement the Appellant’s company deliberately refused to return the master tapes containing the works to him, and had continued with the manufacturing, reproduction and distribution of the musical works in violation of the agreement.
In its judgment delivered in November 9, 2018, and read by Justice Biobele Abraham Georgewill, the court of Appeal held that the Appellant’s claim for N500, million damages was unfounded since the action taken by the Respondent at the lower court was pursuant to exercise of right to protect his copyright, adding that the copyright in the musical works of the Respondent automatically reverted to him after 5th October 1975 as clearly stated in contract Agreement.
African Songs Limited and its sister company are however kicking against the judgment and are proceeding to the Supreme Court for further interpretation of the contract.