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Okafor’s Law Saga: Writers/Producers/Cinemas Beware!

The recent brouhaha surrounding the ownership of the film “Okafor’s Law” said to be owned/produced by Omoni Oboli, a popular actress cum director and the recent vacation of the interim order against the film’s release by the court, has granted initial respite to a warring side as well as the eager movie buffs.

This raises some legal issues which any serious-minded writer, producer or cinema owners would want to consider. But first may we warn that, no one can and no one must pre-empt the court as to whether or not Omoni has infringed on the copyright of Jude Idada. What then are the legal lessons to take home? Section 15 of the Copyright Act, makes liable a producer or like party, who does any work or act which is controlled by copyright without the permission of the owner. Simply put, use of a copyrighted material is tantamount to copyright infringement. Now, what many Nigerians do not know is that, section 15(1)(f) also makes liable any person who permits a place of public entertainment or a business to be used for a performance in the public of the work, where such performance constitutes an infringement of the copyright work, unless the person permitting the place to be used was not aware and had no reasonable ground for suspecting that the performance would be an infringement of the copyright.

Thus, a cinema owner, a producer and a writer may be liable for infringement of copyright. With the wide publicity and newspaper documentation of the Okafor’s Law saga, can any such owner or manager of a cinema feign/claim ignorance of the controversy herein? Will the cinema owner’s action amount to putting itself at risk of a subsequent lawsuit for damages (depending on the outcome of the suit)? This means that a copyright owner may come back and sue the cinemas separately for damages. What then are the lessons to take home? In such a dicey scenario as this, it is advised that third parties like cinema owners consider including a saving clause in their contract with producers. Given the privity of contract principle, we are well aware that this may not save them from legal liabilities to the copyright owner, their safety net may however be the inclusion of a remuneration clause to save them from economic loss and provide a cushion effect. As such, any cinema owner who has not taken the above step while displaying Okafor’s law puts it self at risk as only time would tell. Tick tock… tick tock.

On the part of producers, it is advised that producers must take reasonable steps to verify the authenticity of the scripts they seek to produce i.e due diligence. More importantly, they should engage the services of an Intellectual property lawyer to draft a contract agreement with the script writer which will make the writer liable for remuneration should the script be found to be a copyright infringement. (Please note that there is a difference between copyright and plagiarism but this is not our focus.).

The writer who copied without permission and holds his/her self out as the writer, is the worst of all. The shameful repercussion can be obviated by entering into an agreement with the original writer to promote and use the work and in return both persons will be cited as the writers and enjoy the benefits thereto. The problem is that man in his capricious nature tries to be greedy.

As for the true owners/writers of their script, it is advised that no matter how frustrated one may be, never ever give out your work without documentation/evidence of same and always enter into a written contract where all terms must be spelt. A word is enough for the wise.

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