A lawyer, Rockson Igelige, has petitioned the Nigerian Copyright Commission over an alleged copyright infringement of a literary work of Elias Ozikpu, an author and activist, by Melrose Books and Publishing Ltd, Macmillan Nigeria Publishers Ltd, and Universal Basic Education Commission.

The petition was addressed to the Director-General of NCC, John Asein, and dated February 9, 2020. 

In the petition, Melrose Books and Publishing Ltd were accused of fraudulently publishing the manuscript of Ozikpu’s work titled ‘Heroes of the Night’ without the authorisation, license and consent of the author.

The said manuscript was later sold to Macmillan Nigeria Publishers Ltd, who in turn included ‘Heroes of the Night’ in its bid to UBEC for the supply of books to secondary schools nationwide.

The name of the author was hidden from the publication and substituted with Melrose.

The petition reads in part, “Upon completion of the final manuscript of Heroes of the Night, our client (Mr Elias Ozikpu) forwarded same on 14th May 2012, via electronic mail or e-mail to Melrose to enquire if they would publish the work. 

“Melrose agreed to publish the manuscript upon terms expressed in a Memorandum of Agreement which our client duly executed and returned. 

“Having waited for five months without hearing from Melrose, our client emailed Melrose to enquire about the expected publication date of his manuscript. He received no reply, so he wrote yet again on 4th September 2013, whereupon Melrose replied to say that the manuscript would be published in the last quarter of 2013. More than eight months after, however, the manuscript was yet to be published, causing our client to write on 13th May, 2014 to Melrose seeking an explanation for the failure to do so but got no response. 

“Our client did not receive an answer to yet another email of 23rd May, 2014. Four months after, however, Melrose wrote to inform our client that they had been unable to publish his manuscript due to work pressure.

“Having waited patiently for over two years for Melrose to publish the manuscript of Heroes of the Night with no indication that they would ever do so, our client wrote on 15th December, 2014 to terminate the contract or Memorandum of Agreement. 

“On 17th December, 2014 Melrose emailed our client accepting the termination of the Memorandum of Agreement or contract of book publication and urged him to publish his work with any other publishing company of his choice.

“Unknown to our client however, Melrose had, in fact without his authorisation, license or consent in any form, published his work sometime in 2012, the very same year our client submitted the manuscript to them! 

“Throughout the period of more than two years of the back-and-forth between Melrose and our client, they merely disclosed at some point that they had printed a few copies for promotional purposes only, but this is clearly a pre-publication act. 

“Our client would also later discover that Melrose had sold the reprint or further publication rights to his work to Macmillan, which had in turn included Heroes of Night in its bid to UBEC for the supply of books to secondary schools nationwide, doing so, curiously, by hiding the name of our client as author and substituting Melrose in his place! 

“Consequently, all three parties — Melrose, Macmillan and UBEC — have jointly and severally profited from the unauthorised and continuing publication, distribution and offer for sale to the general public of our client’s work.”

Igelige also said due to the high demand of his client’s work, Heroes of the Night, it has been reprinted on several occasions during the past eight years. 

Igelige, who called on the NCC to as a matter of public importance investigate, prosecute and appropriately sanction the alleged violators when found guilty, said that he has however, started a move to seek redress for his client at the Federal High Court in Suit No. FHC/L/CS/173/2018.

He said, “By this letter, our client requests that you invoke the investigative and prosecutorial powers of the commission under the Nigerian Copyright Act to protect his copyright and ensure that violators of copyright are duly sanctioned.

“Please be informed that our client is already seeking civil remedy at the Federal High Court in Suit No. FHC/L/CS/173/2018.”

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