Jan 29, 2021

Copyright Infringement: Who Legally Owns A Copyright Work? | Freda Odigie


The ongoing controversy of copyright infringement between investigative journalist Tobore Ovuorie and EbonyLife TV has created a lot of buzz on social media. Tobore alleged that her report on Sex Trafficking in Nigeria titled “Inside Nigeria’s Ruthless Trafficking Mafia” which was published by Zam Chronicles in January 2014 and Premium Times in August 2014 was adapted by EbonyLife TV into a movie titled “Oloture” without her consent thereby infringing on her copyright. In her words, “Oloture is a copy and paste of my work, Oloture is my work, Oloture is my life story”.

 CEO of EbonyLife TV, Mo Abudu in response to the allegations made a video denying the claims and stated that she obtained rights to adapt the report to a movie from Premium Times whom she claimed owned the copyright to the report as Tobore was an employee in Premium Times. In the same statement, she claimed Oloture is a “work of fiction” however promotion for the movie depicts the movie as being “inspired by a true story”.

She also stated that in May 2019, she reached out to Tobore to “acknowledge her journalistic achievements. To commend, recognize and encourage her in her ongoing campaign against sex trafficking and that of her NGO”. She also stated that she granted Tobore a private screening of the movie and gave her a special mention in the end credit of film.

She further stated that she wrote to Tobore, offered 5% of the profits of the film’s cinema run to Tobore’s NGO which Tobore acknowledged. However due to the Covid 19 Pandemic, the movie could not be released in the cinemas so the film was released on Netflix.

In response, Tobore claims that she started working on the report as a freelance journalist before she became an employee of Premium Times. She insisted that Oloture is her story, her experience which was adapted without her consent. Through her lawyers, she also demanded the sum of 5 Million Dollars for copyright infringement and the immediate inclusion of a proper credit and end credit in the movie and acknowledging the adaption of her work in line with industry standard and practice.

This debacle has raised the legal issue bothering on copyright law more particularly on who owns the copyright on the report. The possibility of this matter being decided in court is imminent.


With regards to who may be entitled to the ownership of the copyright, it is important we look at the provisions of the law regarding this issue. The issue to be discussed herein is the issue of ownership as only the owner of a work that has copyright to it and can give consent for its use.


By the provisions of the Copyright Act LFN 2004, the author of a work owns the copyright. In this case, Tobore Ovuorie is clearly the author of the report. However, the Act provides exceptions where the author will not be deemed the owner of the work. This is contained in Section 10 (1) and (3) which provides for the general rule and the exception relating to this case respectively. Thus:

(1). Copyright conferred by Section 2 and 3 of this Act, shall vest initially in the author.

(3). Where a literary, artistic or musical work is made by the author in the course of his employment by the proprietor of a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical under a contract of service or apprenticeship as is so made for the purpose of publication in a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical, the said proprietor shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be the first owner of copyright in the work in any newspaper, magazine or similar periodical; or to the reproduction of the work for the purpose of its being so published; but in all other respects, the author shall be the first owner of the copyright in the work.

This section is basically saying that copyright ownership belongs to the author of the work. However, Subsection 3 provides an exception which states that copyright of a literary, artistic or musical work made in the course of employment in a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical belongs to the employer in the absence of any agreement stating otherwise but only limited to the published reproduction of the work. Therefore an employer has a limited copyright.

It is clear that Tobore is the author of the work and Premium Times is the proprietor but by virtue of Section 10 (3), she is equally the owner therefore copyright protection is vested on Tobore and not Premium Times or Zam Chronicles. The claim by Mo Abudu that “Oloture” is a complete fiction may not be tenable in this case because it is evident that the movie was inspired by her report. Also, Mo Abudu would not have approached Premium Times and Tobore if the movie was not inspired by the report.


Going by the law, Tobore has exclusive rights, both economic and moral rights to the work. The right of Premium Times and Zam Chronicles is limited. Therefore, EbonyLife TV ran foul of the law by failing to obtain consent from Tobore before adapting her story into a film.

Again, one could see the film is based on Tobore’s story. It would be safe to presume that EbonyLife TV may be liable for copyright infringement. However, the matter may take a different turn when new facts are brought to the fore. At this juncture, we need to keep our fingers crossed and watch the outcome of this issue.


Disclaimer: This views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not represent the views of her employer or the court.  

Freda Odigie is a legal practitioner at E.A Otokhina & Co Legal Practitioners.


Image source: bytestart.co.uk