CHAIRMAN of Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), Chief Tony Okoroji is joyous and thrilled by the uncommon success of the organisation in just five years.
In an exclusive interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly, the one-time PMAN President and Intellectual Property (IP) rights activist took us through the COSON journey, while revealing he has generated over half a billion naira for artistes since they came on board.
Chief Okoroji also outlined activities lined up for the forth-coming COSON Week, his political conviction, among sundry issues…
COSON would be five next month. How are you celebrating?
It has been decided by our board that we combine our coming annual general meeting taking place on May 20 in Lagos with the fifth anniversary celebration. The intent is to be prudent and save cost. Despite that, after the AGM, we will have some merry making and dancing and some ‘menu-menu’. We have a duty to thank the Almighty because no one gave us a chance at the beginning. We are also working on a major documentary that will be released during the celebration to show how far we have gone during the period.
Almost five years on, what would you say has been the landmark of the organisation?
Just think back five years ago, everyone everywhere in Nigeria used music as if nobody owned it. Radio stations broadcast music for free, hotels used music for free, advertisers deployed music anyhow. There was zero respect in Nigeria for the intellectual property rights of artistes. While it is not yet El Dorado, we can safely say that such an era is gone forever because of the relentless work of COSON. Anyone using music now in a public or commercial setting without a valid licence will be looking over his shoulders. There is a clear paradigm shift.
I must thank my colleagues on the Board for this great achievement. Oftentimes people give me exclusive credit for the great achievement in COSON. As chairman of the board, I am only the lead singer in the band. On the board we have such talented artistes as Banky W, Azeezat Allen, Adewale Ayuba, Baba Dee, SK Sensation and celebrated industry stake holders like Obi Asika of Storm 360;Audu Maikori of Chocolate City; Efe Omorogbe of Now Muzik who manages 2Face Idibia, J. Martins, Timi Dakolo, etc. and John Ewelukwa, Udegbunam of Eweson and Joel Ajayi of Muloan. We have also been blessed with a good management team headed by Chinedu Chukwuji who is easily Nigeria’s best trained mind in copyright collective management.
What about the greatest challenge of COSON?
Changing the perception of the average Nigerian with respect to intellectual property has been extremely challenging. Our people understand landed property, buildings, motor vehicles, jewelry, electronics, shares and stocks as property. To change their orientation to also see the huge proprietary value in music, movies, broadcast programmes, books, photographs, paintings, etc., has been a huge undertaking.
You’ve been in and out of court with so many organisations, especially those using artiste’s works. Which has been the toughest legal battle and the most complex and why?
The toughest cases have been those where COSON has had to sue organizations led by personal friends of mine. Most times, they take it personal. There is no time that COSON has gone to court against anyone without first making every effort to resolve the matter out of court. I swore to defend the interest of members of COSON against everyone whether they are my friends or not. I am bound by that oath. For instance, I did not like the fact that we had to take Larry Izamoje’s Brila to court. I am an admirer of Larry. When we went to court against Brila for copyright infringement, Larry brought an action against COSON for defamation. In our thinking, the case was meant to bring pressure on us. We therefore brought a counter claim against Larry for defamation and our claim was intentionally bigger than his. We were ready to file more cases in the matter if necessary. I was happy when we settled the matter out of court. I really like Larry.
The courts have been absolutely necessary to establish the fact that these rights are not in the air but recognized by our laws.
How many major cases have COSON, and at what stages are they?
Most of the cases we have filed have been resolved out of court. These include the cases against Startimes, Transcorp Hilton, Eko Hotel & Suites, Silverbird, Daar Communications, Smooth FM, Cool FM, Wazobia FM, etc. The ongoing cases include those against First Bank; Cross River State Government; Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja; Bolingo Hotel, Abuja, etc.
Legal experts are of the opinion there are some lacuna in our Intellectual Property (IP) laws. As a foremost IP rights activist, what is missing in our laws in this respect?
Our Copyright Act has been praised as one of the best in the world. I am happy about that because I am one of the persons who drafted the law about 25 years ago. With the advent of technology, there are many changes we have to grapple with which the law clearly did not foresee. We have to make the necessary amendments to deal with such issues. For instance, the nature of piracy is changing rapidly. The piracy of CDs and music cassettes will soon become extinct. Our concentration must now shift heavily to online and offline digital piracy.
COSON used to have long standing issues with MSCN. Have they been resolved?
COSON has moved on with the overwhelming support of Nigerian artistes big and not so big, the domestic music industry and the support of the over 130 collective management organizations in countries across the globe covered by our various reciprocal representation agreements. The period you talk about is in our past. Whatever residual issues there may be have long been left in the hands of the regulatory and law enforcement agencies to deal with.
Many are pleased with COSON, what is the sweetest thing you’ve been told about the collective organisation?
In December 2013, after our distribution of about N100 million, my SMS box nearly exploded with countless prayers from members of COSON. I was touched that the work we are doing is not in vain. We are beginning to have impact on the lives of people. I know that there is so much more to do. We have to be relentless in our work.
How much have you generated and distributed to your members in the last four years? (Pls give us a year by year review if possible).
I do not have the exact figures but I am sure that we have collected over half a billion naira with over half of that going into distribution. The rest has gone into an escrow account which we maintain; investment in equipment and technology that drive our operations; the salaries, allowances and training of our staff, locally and internationally, among many things. It is important to note that we have never owed salaries for one month since COSON started operations. It is also important to note that we have never received one naira from the government, either directly or indirectly.
Expectedly, COSON also has unrepentant critics. So, what is the most painful thing you’ve been told as regards how you run this society?
We are in a democracy and none of us should take offence if we are criticized. Our critics who keep us on our toes may in fact be the biggest reason why we succeed. I do not dwell on criticism. What I have protested against is the virulent character assassination based on no facts or twisted facts. This discourages good people from rendering important national service.
Music star, Kcee recently indicted COSON. What really happened?
We have no quarrel whatsoever with Kcee or any other Nigerian artiste. I have no doubt that once Kcee has an opportunity to see what we are doing at COSON, he will be happy. I hope he comes to COSON soon so that he can ask any question he may have on any issue.
Why shouldn’t he be taken seriously?
I have spent a quite some time in the Nigerian entertainment industry and can say that COSON is without any question the most transparent, most accountable and most stable organization in the history of the Nigerian entertainment industry. I believe that my guy KCee assumed that COSON is like the many corrupt organizations we see all over Nigeria. No, COSON is very different.
Has he ever attended any COSON meeting?
I do not recall seeing KCee at any of the many interactive events organized by COSON where we answer every question thrown at us. I will encourage him as a professional, to attend such events and keep abreast with current happenings. Showbizness around the world is changing rapidly. It is no longer enough to be cool with the show. Every serious practitioner must endeavor to be cool with the business.
Have you personally called him to explain things to him?
Yes, I have. I could not reach him so I sent an SMS. He has not called me back. I guess he is busy. I am sure he will call ultimately. He has always treated me with respect. We have a very good relationship.
But by and large, the majority of your members are cool with you and trust you with their money (royalties)?
The membership of COSON continues to grow exponentially. COSON has almost every major Nigerian artiste in its membership, even those who were suspicious of us in the beginning. The Nigerian entertainment industry has never had an organization like COSON before, run in line with world standards. Because of the checks and balances we have in COSON, it is not possible for any COSON member to lose one kobo that should come to him or her. We encourage our members to ask questions whenever in doubt. They will get explicit explanation from COSON. I have never refused to take the call of any COSON member. It is the right of our members to know what is going on and our duty to explain to them what we are doing in details. Once we are not willing to be answerable to our members, we should all resign. The openness at COSON engenders trust. That is why there is stability in COSON.
COSON Week is in November. Why was it not held last year?
From the beginning, we took the decision that the COSON Week will be held every two years. COSON Week is the ‘World Cup’ of entertainment in Nigeria. Seven mega events in seven days! The planning and logistics are mind boggling. You cannot do that every year. It is the same way the World Cup cannot hold every year. We have a date with history from November 1 to 7.
What should we expect this year?
From November 1 to 7, 2015, you should expect awe inspiring events different from anything you have seen before. You know me well and you know that we have integrity. I am a professional and do not want my name associated with any ‘cut and join event’. Whatever I say, we will do, we will do. At the COSON Week 2015, we will raise the bar of entertainment in Nigeria. You will notice that by January 2015, ten months before the events, we had started planning and advertising. We take our time. Once we are through with the general elections, we will switch over and begin to dish out the juicy details of COSON Week 2015. Fasten your seat belts everyone!
What about the COSON Awards?
You were at the last COSON Song Awards. You can bear witness to the fact that it was different from any other award event you have seen anywhere. It had flash and pizzas but still had a deep story line. You could feel the enormous pre-production work that went on before the event. As producer, that is my style. I want to always give you top rate entertainment that keeps you on the edge of your seat but also has intellectual depth. The COSON Song Awards will hold on Saturday, November 7 in Lagos. It will round off the COSON Week 2015 with indescribable fireworks. You want me to tell you about the COSON Song Awards? The only way to describe it is wow!!!
Let’s talk politics. You were so certain that Jonathan would be swept away by forces of change. What gave you the conviction?
I am really surprised that there are Nigerians who could not see what I saw. The Jonathan government was simply unsustainable. The assault on time worn values and the contradictions it had foisted on itself were such that it could not stand. The only reason I was given by friends to support a Jonathan re-election was that he has Ebele and Azikiwe in his name and he is a Christian. I am a proud Igbo man and a Christian but I am not a tribal monger or an ethnic chauvinist. I have seen elsewhere the horrendous damage that irrepressible embrace of tribe and religion can do. I have many Yoruba, Hausa and Ibibio friends. I have Edo, Efik, Ibira, Kanuri, Idoma, Urhobo and Ijaw friends. I have friends from all over Nigeria whose character and personalities I admire. I love them. For me, the appeal to tribe and religion was despicable and more proof to me that the leadership had nothing to offer.
Some of us were even worried you were getting too close to the opposition.
I have repeatedly said that I am neither a member of the APC or the PDP. I do not carry any political party card. I am a proud member of FRN (Federal Republic of Nigeria). If my position changes tomorrow, I will make it clear. With the position I took in my newspaper and Facebook column, there were people who suggested that I may have taken money. My reply to them was that the APC and PDP put together do not have enough money to buy my conscience. I stand for the truth as I see it. Is there anybody who has any information that I took one Naira from any of the political parties or any of their agents in any guise? Let the person make it public so that I can keep quiet forever. You know that my weekly commentary on the elections has been compiled into a book, “On the Road to Change” which will be out soon. I want every Nigerian interested in the history of our fatherland to read the book. The truth is that Nigeria could not go on the way it was going. Change was imperative.
Now Buhari has won, what is your agenda for him?
In Buhari, I am looking forward to a leader who inspires the citizenry by his personal conduct. I am inspired by his personal discipline and look forward to Nigerians ending our love affair with instant gratification and the ruinous corruption which has kept many hungry in our land in the midst of plenty.
I am also looking forward to an opportunity to have a serious conversation with the incoming government on the potentials of a well-managed intellectual property environment. I am looking forward to discussing how this can contribute to growth in our economy and the provision of jobs for millions of jobless Nigerians. I don’t want to talk to anyone about why our exceptionally gifted creative community should be collecting easy money from the government. Rather, I want to describe in details how we can make money for our country and how we can build a nation that we all will be proud of.
How is family life?
Quite good. The kids are growing up now. They are dispersing and searching for their own calling and fulfillment. Thank God for technology, we keep in touch all the time.