Nigerian court orders Coca-Cola to pay compensation for copyright infringement
Coca-Cola Nigeria Plc and it’s local bottler, the Nigeria Bottling Company (NBC), have been ordered by a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, Nigeria, to pay three million Naira (approximately USD 3,875) for copyright infringement of a person’s literary work, despite NBC’s argument that the works in question were not protected by copyright.
The plaintiff, Onilemarun, claimed in the lawsuit that Coca-Cola Plc had plagiarized his calendar works by using it in the "Ramadan Timing for Dawn Meal and Breaking of Fast in Kwara State, 2014 and 2015" without getting his permission or securing a license and sought ten million Naira (about USD 12,900) in damages for it’s unlawful reproduction, publication, and distribution.
He also sought an additional ten million Naira from the defendants for “breach of confidence of secret information and his secret idea” for their having produced a proprietary Coca-Cola Ilorin Ramadan Timing Jun/July 2015 in the course of their business and trade, along with an award of profits and costs.
The defendants asked the court to dismiss the case for lacking merit because the writer’s works were merely lunar dates speculated by Muslim Clerics commonly found on the Internet, and thus lacking any requisite element of originality to merit copyright protection.
The defendants also claimed the plaintiff never registered any claim for copyright protection in his calendar with the Nigerian Copyright Commission.
The company told the court that despite the lack of any copyright protection in the calendars, they were nonetheless granted a license for their use by the plaintiff, who consented to their exploitation and voluntarily assumed the risk.
They further claimed there was never any thought given towards compensation for Onilemarun as the calendars were used only for educational purposes of the Muslim community at the time of Ramadan.
However, after carefully examining all the submissions made by the parties, Justice Daniel Osiagor concluded that a compilation of timings, such as those found in the plaintiff’s work did in fact constitute a literary work under Section 51 of the Copyright Act.
He further said that NBC’s argument that the “copyright certificate of the Plaintiff does not protect any literary work as none was submitted to the Nigerian Copyright Commission is very misconceived as copyright does not inure in plaintiff’s favor only upon registration.”
The judge found substantial similarity between the works in question and characterized the defendants’ refutation of prior collaboration between the parties evasive and argumentative, concluding that Onilemarunis entitled to damages worth three million Naira “for infringement of his copyright”.
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