A Novelist and activist, Elias Ozikpu has charged Melrose Books and Publishing Limited to the Federal High court in Lagos for publishing his novel without his consent and is demanding the sum of N15.02billion as compensation.

The author said the publishing company has been publishing and circulating his book titled “Heroes of the Night” since 2012 and kept proceeds of the book to themselves.

According to the charge sheet obtained by SaharaReporters, “the defendant concealed the fact that it published the plaintiff’s work from the plaintiff as the defendant kept postponing the date of publication till the end of 2014."

Narrating his ordeal with the book publishing company, Elias said that he approached the publishing company in 2012 with his manuscript and signed a Memorandum of Understanding for his book to be published by them.

"I submitted my manuscript in 2012 and after two years of numerous excuses for delay in publication, I requested for termination of the agreement on 15th December 2014, which they agreed to and they assured me that they have not printed it."

Reacting to the author’s decision to terminate the agreement, Melrose responded through an email saying: "We received your mail about the withdrawal of your manuscript – “Heroes of the Night”, with great disappointment. In as much as we would have loved to partner with you in the publication of your work, we are constrained to return it to you as that is your wish. No doubt, your work is well-written and has a potential of becoming a bestseller someday.

"However, we have not been able to publish it for this long due to the magnitude of works we have had to handle over this couple of years. Please, take this as a termination of whatever agreement we have with you. By this letter, you are free to use your work in whatever form or submit it anywhere you wish. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work for publication."

The author, however, stated that the Melrose deceived him and secretly published the book.

"Unknowing to me, Melrose had printed and circulated my book since 2012. It was five years later, in 2017, that I got to find out that the book was actually published.

"It was first printed in the same 2012, reprinted in 2013 with other copies currently being printed."

Elias further accused the book publishing company of entering into an agreement with the Federal Government of Nigeria and Universal Basic Education Board (UBE)  with the publishing company receiving millions to themselves.

"Documents showed that Melrose Books and Publishing Limited collaborated with a Nigerian publishing giant, Macmillan, to offer HEROES OF THE NIGHT to Universal Basic Education (UBE) at the price of N520 per copy. The bid, being successful and agreement signed by parties without my knowledge and consent of the author.

"Basic Education went on to produce mass copies of 'Heroes Of The Night' and distribute to schools across Nigeria with the inscription: NOT FOR SALE on the book."

The author disclosed that he wrote the UBEC stating that the publication and subsequent distribution of 'Heroes Of The Night' are illegal because the publisher surreptitiously did so without his knowledge.

"I wrote three FoI letters to UBEC on April 27, May 28 and June 7, 2018, asking the Commission to provide documents which empowered it to distribute mass copies of my intellectual property to schools across Nigeria. However, Universal Basic Education Commission, a public agency under the coverage of Freedom of Information Act, 2011, firmly denied access to the said documents despite being known that the intellectual property under reference has become a subject of theft."

The author described the act by publishing company’s as fraudulent and illegal while requesting that all unsold copies of the book publication be returned to him as the rightful author and owner of the copyright.

In his suit, he prayed the court to issue an order of perpetual injunction, restricting the publishing company and its agent from further production or marketing of the book.

He is requesting that Melrose pays to him a sum of N15.02billion as damages and compensation.

When contacted, the General Manager of Melrose Books and Publishing Limited, Matthew Kolawole Oni, posited that as a result of the contract signed with the publishing company, it has the right to transfer the rights of the book to a third party which it did.

He said, "The book was never published to the 'Open Market'. The publishing company can sell the right of the book, once you have signed the contract. It is stated in the contract, which the author has entered with the publishing company that we can transfer the rights to a third party. The action of selling the right of the book has happened before he withdrew his book."

Asked why the publishing company kept telling the author that the book was not published, the General Manager said, "publishing to the open market is what Melrose has not done. The 'open market' is when you print to sell but we can sell the right to another company. Macmillian secured a contract with UBEC, Melrose sold the rights to UBEC and UBEC printed for the library supply."

Matthew, however, stated that the author was offered #5m as compensation and to withdraw the matter from the court but he rejected it.

"Macmillian has not paid Melrose but an arrangement has been made to give him his royalty with an addition of #5m as compensation. What he is entitled to be less than #2m but Melrose is offering him the #5m because we have held to the book for too long. He still has the right to do anything he likes with his book even after collecting the money," the GM explained.

The book, 'Heroes of the Night' is a play written by Elias Ozikpu with ISBN: 9789781134913.

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