- Writer heads to court, alleges that publishing firm printed, distributed copies of his book without permission
By Job Osazuwa
MR. Paulicap Okechukwu Okeke, a Nigerian author based in Ontario, Canada, is angry. And you cannot blame him. A major Nigerian publishing firm, he says, has republished his book, Biribamba the Lonely Elephant, without authorisation. According to the writer, some people he once trusted are now harvesting the reward of his many years of labour.
Okeke, who holds a first degree from the University of Ibadan and a Master’s degree from the University of Windsor, Canada, has accused Macmillan Publishing Company Nigeria Limited of stealing his intellectual property as well as printing and selling millions of copies of Biribamba the Lonely Elephant to UBEC, a Federal Government of Nigeria agency, without his consent. And he has sworn to get justice. Already, Okeke’s lawyers have filed a suit in court.
How the drama started
It all began when Okeke visited Nigeria sometime in 2012 to see if his well-researched book, which was already published in the United States and was being sold across Canada and the United States, could also be published here in Nigeria. The address that easily came to his mind was Macmillan, a household name in book publishing. Obeying his instinct, Okeke said he went straight to Macmillan’s office at Ilupeju in Lagos to strike a deal, though he had no prior acquaintance with any official of the company.
According to him, he felt Nigerian students and youths should benefit from the lesson the book teaches. He describes the book as a tool for moral rebirth and moulding of Nigerian children.
Getting to the Ilupeju office, the company’s security personnel directed him to some staff there to handle his concern. Okeke told Daily Sun that the staff later gave him the cell phone number of the company’s Publishing Manager, one Mr. Adeoba Fatehinse, at the company’s Ibadan branch office.
Okeke said he left a copy of the book with a staff member at the Ilupeju office, who assured him that the book would be forwarded to the Publishing Manager. According to Okeke, on getting back to Canada, he called the Publishing Manager, who promised to arrange for a contract since the company was interested in publishing the book. However, negotiations with the publishing company were inconclusive and no contract was provided. And the author, at that point, concluded that the publishing firm was no longer interested in the work. He thereafter stopped calling the man. Okeke said he never nursed any fears that the firm could go ahead and do anything with the book, since there was no agreement whatsoever.
A shocker from Macmillan
Okeke said he later got the shock of his life when his mother called him sometime last year. His mother wasn’t happy that Okeke never informed her that he had published the book in Nigeria. His mother’s words immediately shocked him, he told the reporter. He said he tried to clean his ears very well and then asked her to repeat what she said. His mother then explained that the book had been published by Macmillan and copies were being distributed to schools in Nigeria. At that juncture, it dawned on him that he had been swindled.
“My mother told me that she saw copies of the book, and that they were distributed to schools in Osun State.
“Macmillan went behind me to print the book and sold it to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and the latter was distributing them to secondary schools across the country. Both of them colluded to sell my intellectual property that I laboured and sweated to put together.
“It is still somehow unbelievable to me that Macmillan could go to that length to print and be selling my book without my consent. They went ahead and changed the International Book Standard Number (ISBN) and also wrote that the book was first published in Nigeria. This is pure fraud, criminal and unacceptable.
“I thought Macmillan was a reputable and responsible company and that was why I went there in the first place when I came to Nigeria. I didn’t need to know anybody at the company because I believed Macmillan had come a long way in Nigeria, but they have disappointed me with this their fraudulent act.”
Macmillan tried to negotiate
He narrated further that he immediately contacted his lawyers in Nigeria and informed the accused to get ready for a legal battle. He said representatives of Macmillan allegedly pleaded with him and asked him to resolve the matter amicably with the firm without going to court.
Okeke told the reporter on the telephone that the money Macmillan offered him, as compensation was not only meagre but ridiculous.
Said he: “They thought they could just go ahead and publish my book, and then later give me whatever they feel like. It is not all about the money but my labour and name that were being used to make money by some people that one had thought could be trusted.
“UBEC lawyers met with my lawyer in Ibadan and they connected me on skype (Internet video call). They wanted to pay me N2.5 million, but we rejected it. My lawyer told them they should have negotiated with me before going to press. And he also reminded them that the issue on ground was now beyond negotiation but payment of damages because they infringed on my right.
“You could imagine how many people they might have done this to. Perhaps, the victims might not have the financial muscle or influence to fight for their right. Nigeria is a place where anything can just happen. People take advantage of others and the perpetrators get away with it.
“They wrote ‘Not for Sale’ on the book, that the copies were freely given by UBEC. But UBEC ought to have asked Macmillan if the author had given his consent to give out the book. There was no agreement between us in whatsoever form. Not even a kobo was given to me by any of them. It is an irony that UBEC, which is a Federal Government agency, colluded with Macmillan to breach the law of the land by stealing my work.
“In this very matter, l need justice and adequate compensation from all the parties involved in stealing my book. I believe this will serve as a deterrent to others, who indulge in similar act.”
Okeke’s lawyer spits fire
The author’s lawyer, Prince B. Ude Ikpenwa, said Macmillan and UBEC should be held liable for the alleged theft. He described the act as criminal.
According to him, it was a reckless abuse of privileges and infringement on the intellectual right of the author.
A writ of summons made available to Daily Sun declares that Okeke, the plaintiff, is the sole owner and holder of intellectual property and copyright in the book, titled “Biribamba the Lonely Elephant” first published by the plaintiff in the United States on June 30, 2011 by Authorhouse Publishers and ascribed with ISBN 978-1-4634-2992-8 (sc) and Library of Congress Control Number: 2011911256 respectively.
The lawyer said the unauthorised printing, publication, distribution and sale of the book by Macmillan and UBEC to the Federal Ministry of Education and some Nigerian schools without the consent of the plaintiff was a grave and brazen violation of Okeke’s intellectual property and copyright in the published book.
‘Why Macmillan, UBEC must pay damages’
On that note, Okeke, through his lawyer, wants the defendants severally and jointly to pay N250 million as general damages for the theft of Okeke’s intellectual property.
They are also asked to severally and jointly render account of all the sales, proceeds, royalties and/or gains, arising from every transaction connected with the published work of the plaintiff, which has over the years accrued to Macmillan and UBEC and pass the same over to Okeke.
The statement also wants the defendants severally and jointly to forthwith calculate and further pay to the plaintiff 25 per cent interest on all such monies and proceeds from the copies of the book already sold to the Federal Government and any other person(s), bodies and/or authorities to whom copies of the book may have been sold.
The defendants are to disclose every other use to which the book has been put, including whatever contract they may have entered into with any persons, institutions, government or such other entities within and outside the shores of Nigeria.
“Macmillan and UBEC, either by themselves, their agents, privies and legal representatives are restrained from further printing, publishing, distributing and/or selling or dealing howsoever with the book, without the express and prior written consent or authorisation of the author,” the author’s lawyer noted.
The lawyer also wanted the defendants to pay the sum of N2 million as cost of the suit, with the number: FHC/L/CS/690/2016.
The statement of claim by Okeke’s lawyer read in part: “The Plaintiff further avers that the said Power of Attorney dated May 13, 2016, also empowers the donee (Mr. Oludare Esan) to enter into any discussions and/or negotiations with the defendant, her lawful agents, representatives and other such appropriate person(s) or authorities with a view to an amicable resolution of all disputes relating to the subject matter of this suit.
The lawyer further noted: “For the plaintiff to further his noble intention of availing young Nigerians the opportunity of using his book, he had cause to engage the Publishing Manager of the Macmillan on a telephone conversation in respect of the subject matter, and the publishing manager spoke in glowing and flowery terms about the creativity and intellectual depth of the book with a further commitment to ensure that a contract for the publication of the book is actualised.
“No contract was eventually entered into or executed in that behalf by the parties, and parties were not ad idem on any issue relating to the publication of the said book. Then in pursuant to the foregoing, the plaintiff avers that his interaction with the 1st defendant came to an end when they were unable to enter into a valid contract for the publication of the book which was his primary purpose of interfacing with the 1st defendant ab initio.”
The lawyer further pointed out that the publication by Macmillan was a reckless disregard for the author’s intellectual property rights, accusing Macmillan of active collusion or connivance with UBEC to take advantage of the author’s absence from Nigeria by latching onto a copy of the book given to the Macmillan for perusal with a view to reaching possible agreement for its publication in Nigeria.
The lawyer stated that the accused did not only infringe on the author’s intellectual property rights but also went further to ascribe a fictitious classification number: “ISBN-978-978-018-1” to the version of the work that it printed and published.
“It went a step further to sell many copies of the published work to the Federal Government through UBEC, with the inscription: ‘FGN/UBE 2013 ‘NOT FOR SALE’ making substantial financial gains from the transaction and have used, squandered and/or kept the proceeds/profits of that illicit act to themselves without any lawful justification thereby depriving the Plaintiff of the fruit of his intellectual labour.
“Also, throughout the period the 1st and 2nd defendants printed, published, distributed and sold his intellectual property, that is the said book, they made no attempt to reach the author or offer him any compensation, royalty or part of the gain they derived from such transactions. The plaintiff further avers that their action has brazenly violated his intellectual property rights and caused irreparable detriment to his proprietary interest in the subject matter, including very colossal financial losses thereof.”
Okeke’s several letters to Macmillan
In a move to call Macmillan to order and to stop the illicit printing and publication of his work, Okeke instructed his solicitors to write Macmillan in respect of the subject matter and making necessary demands. Many letters were sent by Okeke’s lawyers to Macmillan Publishers.
After the second letter from Okeke’s lawyers, Macmillan wrote through her solicitors, O. A. Abiose and Company, replied Okeke, requesting personal negotiations with the plaintiff himself for possible amicable settlement. But it was gathered that the firm eventually failed to activate the negotiation process.
Drama at Macmillan’s offices
Efforts to get Macmillan’s side of the story were frustrated by the company’s officials in Lagos and Ibadan. When Daily Sun’s reporter visited the Ibadan office, he was told that officials of the firm that could speak were all in Lagos.
On Monday, June 20, another reporter visited Macmillan’s office at 4, Industrial Avenue, Ilupeju, Lagos. Having explained why he was there, he was told by the company’s security officials that it was the Publishing Manager that was vested with the power to respond to such issues. But they said the official was not available and that his movement was unpredictable. They also refused to give the reporter the manager’s phone number.
When the reporter insisted that he would like to talk to any official, they made him fill a visitor’s form addressed to the Marketing Manager. Fifteen minutes later, the security men said the marketing manager was no longer in the mood to speak. He advised the reporter to wait for the Protocol Manager who might want to speak for the Publishing Manager.
After about one and half hours of waiting, one of the security men came out and announced to the visitor: “All of them are at a meeting now in Ibadan and you can go; sorry that we had keep you waiting.”
When the reporter asked to see the marketing manager, who was said to be in the office, the security man replied: “All of them, including the marketing manager, are now at the meeting in Ibadan.”
With that, the reporter was dismissed.