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Ewa Cole vs Funke Akindele Copyright Dispute: Exclusive Details as Court Hearing Begins

Ewa Cole vs Funke Akindele Copyright Dispute: Exclusive Details as Court Hearing Begins

In an exclusive interview with Afrocritik, Ewa Cole’s team indicates a willingness to consider an out-of-court settlement.

By Helena Olori and Victory Hayzard Solum

In early February, the Nigerian entertainment industry was rocked by news of singer Ewaoluwa Nicole Olatunji, known professionally as Ewa Cole, filed a lawsuit against filmmaker, Funke Akindele, and music executive, JJC Skillz (Bello Abdulrasheed), for alleged copyright infringement for using her song in the film, She Must Be Obeyed. The series, co-directed by Akindele and JJC Skillz, was produced by SceneOne Entertainment and released on Prime Video.

Ewa Cole, represented by Adewale Williams Esq., alleges unauthorised use of her sound recordings, “Opoor” and “Bhad Gyal”, two songs allegedly featured in the series. The lawsuit, filed before the Federal High Court of Lagos, also lists music producer, Tony “Topage” Ugiagbe, singers Waje and Veeiye, who are both cast in the series, SceneOne Entertainment, Transsnet Music Nigeria Ltd (BoomPlay Music), Apple Inc., and Amazon Web Services Nigeria Ltd. and Inc. as defendants.

Ewa Cole vs Funke Akindele lawsuit - Afrocritik
Ewa Cole | Instagram: @ewa_cole

In an exclusive with Afrocritik on Friday 23rd February, 2024, Williams Esq confirmed that the allegations stem from events in 2021 when Topage, acting on behalf of Akindele’s production company, approached Ewa Cole to compose and perform songs for the series’ soundtrack. However, upon completing the project, Topage informed her that her songs had been rejected. Nevertheless, Ewa Cole proceeded to initiate the copyright registration process shortly after the engagement was concluded. 

Funke Akindele-Bello, JJC Skillz
Funke Akindele and JJC Skillz | The Nation Newspaper

Ms Cole’s lawyer alleges that months after the series premiered and its soundtrack released, the songs were in fact featured prominently in the show, without permission or credit, allegedly reproduced by Waje and Veeiye. In response, the fast-rising singer, who recently made headlines for setting a Guinness World Record for the “longest marathon singing Christmas songs”, is demanding N300 million in damages and a permanent injunction against the defendants from using, performing, or distributing her compositions.

Responding to speculations that the lawsuit might be motivated by Akindele’s recent box office success, Williams clarified, “Before resorting to legal action, we made concerted efforts to resolve this amicably. We wrote to her and all the parties involved, to ensure they are fully aware of the details of the matter and to draw their attention to it, hoping for an agreeable solution. But that wasn’t forthcoming, so we had to go to court. When you look at the letter of demand and notice to litigate attached to the process, you will discover that the letter was written sometime in November last year. It is expected that within that period of time, we should have gotten at least reasonable feedback from all the parties involved”.

He explained further that despite earnest attempts at reconciliation, including communication with the defendants and respected parties who they had hoped would mediate on the matter, only JJC Skillz and a few others from their team reached out to Ewa Cole but none of them offered a substantial resolution.

Meanwhile, while reviewing the certified true copy of the court-filed papers, Afrocritik observed that the copyright registration was issued on December 12th, 2023, a few months after the film was released. Williams however clarified that the copyright registration process began eight months before the lawsuit was filed but was delayed due to bureaucratic processes. When asked about initial contracts or prior negotiations, Williams stated that they are not at liberty to discuss such details due to the ongoing lawsuit. 

As the court hearing scheduled for February 29th, 2024, at the Federal High Court of Lagos approaches, Ewa Cole’s team has indicated a willingness to consider an out-of-court settlement if the defendants are open to it.  

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Afrocritik’s efforts to contact parties listed as defendants to confirm or refute the validity of Ewa Cole’s claims yielded no response as of press time. JJC Skills and Topage, however, did acknowledge the emails indicating they would respond in due course. 

The lawsuit, according to Ewa Cole’s legal counsel, is not motivated by personal or financial gains but aims to challenge the prevailing industry’s culture where creatives are often not rewarded for their intellectual property, setting a precedent for fair treatment in line with global standards.

Ewa Cole’s case is just one of the many intellectual disputes that have jolted the entertainment industry recently. In another ongoing battle, Nollywood actress Ini Edo of Minnie Empire has raised allegations of intellectual property theft with regard to the Netflix original, Shanty Town

These recent developments bring to the fore the need to accelerate the protection of intellectual property rights in Nigeria’s entertainment industry, especially for emerging artistes. Copyright ownership ensures that creators are fairly compensated for their works. However, in Nigeria, the enforcement of these rights has often been challenging, leading to situations where artists’ works are used without permission or proper compensation. This not only affects artists’ income but also the growth of the industry as the absence of proper compensation can lead to a loss of confidence and artistes feeling undervalued and exploited.

In an upcoming publication, Afrocritik will spotlight issues around talent management, intellectual property and copyright infringements. You can also catch up on the conversation on our X spaces where we discuss in detail the intricacies of the Nigerian entertainment and culture industry. 

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