In 2016, Omoni Oboli released a movie that will eventually kickstart a major controversy – Okafor’s Law.
At the premiere of the film, the Actress was not only served with a lawsuit, disrupting the premiere, she inadvertently made it to social media that same night, seemingly devastated by what had happened to her.
A lot has happened since then.
Omoni has been dragged to court by Chioma Onyenwe’s Raconteur Productions which had a claim to the story that eventually became the movie, Okafor’s Law, the case has taken about 2 years and now, there is a verdict.
Chioma Onyenwe now tells her own side of the story.
‘In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught’ — Hunter Thompson
I’m not quite sure how to write this article, I know why I must though for posterity sake because for the past 2 years I was letting the law run its course. Now that the Federal High Court judgment has been given I feel disillusioned, tired and trying to find the spark I need to go on. Do I care enough? Quite frankly, as I cannot produce tears on demand, it’s quite essential to now present the facts because there have been various misrepresentations in the media that my institution of this suit is some witch hunt or vendetta against Omoni Oboli.
Fact 1 — Copyright is not ascribed to an idea but rather to an expression of an idea i.e written work such as a screenplay, a book and even this write up! Two people can have a similar idea and even discuss it and almost more certain than not their expressions of the idea will differ e.g Olympus has fallen & White House Down. As regards Okafor’s Law, the question here in law is not about whose idea it was, but if the film “Okafor’s Law” produced by Dioni Visions (Omoni’s Production Company) was based on the screenplay of same name written by Jude Idada in 2014 and if so, how was Omoni able to gain unauthorised access to same without payment or an agreement. Omoni claimed to have written a screenplay for the film in 2016 however, she didn’t show any rough drafts, treatments or even tender her written script to the court. In court we provided a copy of Jude’s screenplay and his accompanying Canadian Guild of Writers copyright registration dated January 2015 with an analysis of both screenplays as well as the screenplay purchase agreement between Raconteur Productions (My company) and Jude in which he assigned the copyright in his screenplay to us to enable us produce a film adaptation of same. You can read both scripts here and make your own conclusions. https://www.africamusiclaw.com/injunction-lifted-okafors-law-script/
Fact 2 — So how did she get access to Jude Idada’s script to copy? Enter Filmone and the argument on proximity. Filmone was listed as the 3rd defendant in the case because I had shared the screenplay with them in a bid to co-produce the film with them in 2015, they had even sent me a letter of intent . Filmone unilaterally terminated the letter of intent 2 months later and I had not heard anything else from them. Sometime in 2016, I became aware that Omoni, Filmhouse and Filmone were having conversations about the screenplay. So our position is that she got access to the screenplay through Filmone. I am of the view that Filmone felt that Omoni was a more commercially viable producer and shared my screenplay that was in their possession with her. It is no secret that a good number of production companies look at the commercial advantage before deciding who to partner with.
Fact 3 — There was no defence! Omoni’s defence was her claim that she had registered the title Okafor’s law in 2014 and not a script with the National Film & Video Censors Board (NFVCB). The role of the NFVCB is to classify films and give licenses to distributors and exhibitors so they have no business registering titles of the film except when they are classifying finished films and permitting for exhibition. Their representative attested to this fact in court and also stated that the only registration done for the film title was in 2017 by Filmone her distributors. The only testimony given in her defence was that of her assistant which under the law is hearsay!
Fact 4 — I had sent out a cease and desist letter first to Omoni and Filmone prior to initiating a law suit. In the letter we attempted to give them a chance to address our concerns amicably and instead Omoni sued us and Filmone dismissed our letter. There’s currently a sister suit attached initiated by her that precedes the injunction but the needle hasn’t been moved on that case.
Fact 5 — Settlement Attempt — I was initially offered a payment of N7.5 million naira, a new coproduction deal this time with Omoni & Filmone. However, I would have had to sign an NDA and thrown Jude under the bus as well as withdraw the case. I responded to her offer and asked for a written apology from Filmone and for the payment of any sum to come as a license fee for the screenplay (We upped the sum to N15 million to include Jude’s compensation) and for Jude to be credited as the writer in the film end credits. She was willing to pay but she wasn’t going to admit to any wrongdoing which would have inadvertently been the case had she signed a license agreement or given Jude credit. In hindsight, maybe I should have taken the money and walked away. Would have been easier but it won’t have been me.
Summary of the judgement: With regard to the issue of copyright infringement, the Court noted that having gone through all the pleadings and evidence adduced by both parties, the plaintiff had no copyright to be infringed upon. The judge noted that the plaintiff had admitted in its evidence and upon cross-examination of its witnesses that Jude Idada was contracted by the Defendant to write the script for a fee. The judge also stated that on cross examination, the plaintiff admitted that they heard of the social myth ‘Okafor’s law’ for the first time during Jude Idada’s meeting with Omoni Oboli. The learned judge quoted authorities to the effect that where evidence given by one party is uncontroverted by the other party which had the opportunity to do so, it can be relied upon. The court noted that through all the evidence of the witnesses and even on cross examination, the plaintiff did not show that they had copyright to the work ‘Okafor’s Law’; nor did any evidence adduced by them show infringement of same. The judge came to the conclusion that there is no copyright, and thus, no infringement of same. The issue was thus decided in favour of the Defendants.
From the judgement the statements myself and Jude made to the court were ignored and all the evidence that we brought before the court were not considered.
Under the Copyright Act Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, a literary work is eligible for copyright if “sufficient effort has been expended on making the work to give it an original character and the work has been fixed in any definite medium of expression”. The trial Judge’s contention that there was no copyright is flawed as Jude’s screenplay is the very epitome of what has copyright protection under the law. He took a folklore (which as an idea doesn’t have copyright protection) and created a fantastic screenplay inspired by it. The screenplay was exhibited by us with a registration of same at the Canadian Writers Guild as further proof of Jude’s authorship.
In Jude’s statement he clearly informed the court that no monies were paid to him by Omoni and no agreement was executed between himself and Omoni as regards the screenplay. Omoni did not dispute this in court. So it boggles the mind how the court came to this conclusion that Jude was contracted when there was no contract. Contacting someone to do something does not create a contract. A contract requires, Offer, Acceptance and Consideration and whilst Jude and Omoni had negotiated terms after herself and her husband contacted him to write a screenplay based on the Okafor’s Law folklore, they never paid him or signed an agreement despite him following up with them to do so after he completed the screenplay. The copyright law in Nigeria is also very clear, the author of a work is the copyright owner. Even if someone commissions a person to carry out a work, the creator of the work must assign in writing under contract their copyright in the work to the commissioning party see section 10 (1) and (2) of the Nigerian Copyright Act Laws of the Federation 2004. s.10 (1) states that copyright initially vests with the Author. S.10 (2) states that where a work is commissioned by an author who is not an employee or made in the course of the author’s employment, the work shall at first instance belong to the Author unless stipulated in the contract. Going by the provisions above, in the absence of a contract, the work at the first instance belongs to the author (Jude Idada) which is his copyright.
I carried out this action in the interest of promoting ethical business conduct and the importance of intellectual property rights in the Film industry in Nigeria. The judgment in this case is a grave miscarriage of justice and is indicative of the lack of knowledge and apathy regarding Intellectual property and Entertainment transactions in the Nigerian Judicial system. Those who put intellectual effort have been deprived of their reward and the ability to monetise their effort going against the very objective of the Copyright Act.
What’s truly at stake with this judgement? I implore the press to do investigate this matter and provide the true facts of this case to the public and for us all to play our part in ensuring that it doesn’t stand even if it’s just by sharing this post.
This only reaffirms to me why this case is so important and despite this setback, I will continue to fight until justice is administered. I want to thank all those who have supported and continue to support me through this fight. The truth will ultimately prevail even if it may take longer.
‘If I’m not for myself, who will be for me? If I’m not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?’ — Rabbi Hillel