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Oladipo Yemitan v. Daily Times of Nigeria Ltd.

Federal High Court

Citation: 23 NIPJD [FHC. 1980] 1/1980
FHC/L/1/1980                      Jurisdiction: Nigeria

Judgement delivered by Hon. Justice M.B. Belgore

Copyright Infringement, Award of Exemplary Damages — The court had to consider the type of damages to be awarded against the Defendants for the unauthorised republication of an article titled “The Day Lagoon Caught Fire”, which was copied verbatim by the Defendant and reproduced in the Defendants’ publication, Headlines No.52 of July, 1977.


The Defendant, without the authorisation of the Plaintiff republished in another publication, known as “Headlines”, an article that had been written and published by the Plaintiff in their publication titled “Nigeria Magazine”.

“In the circumstances of this case, I have no doubt that the defendants flagrantly infringed the copyright of the plaintiff taking advantage that a few artists in this country are aware of their right under copyright law, and the defendants believing that the profit to be realized from the infringement, were litigation to be undertaken, would outweigh any nominal damages the plaintiff would be entitled. The flagrant way the plaintiff’s work was infringed; the apathetic manner his letters and those of the officers connected with the Nigeria Magazine were treated and the nonchalant attitude in which the defence was  prepared by denying obvious facts and making unfounded assertions only conceding brazenly, liability after a full trial, to my mind, is a clear evidence of the view of the defendant that “it would not cause more than money.” I have no doubt that the defendants were motivated by glitters of profits in infringing the copyright of the plaintiff and perhaps they were intoxicated by actual profit in treating him so contemptuously afterwards.”…Hon. Justice M.B. Belgore

Relying on the English case of Rookes v. Barnard, where Lord Devlin had stated that “Exemplary damages are essentially different from ordinary damages. The object of exemplary damages is to punish and deter.”, the court considered the circumstances where exemplary damages are necessary and held that exemplary damages are necessary when:

(i)    there is oppressive, arbitrary or unconstitutional action by the servants of government; and

(ii)   the defendant’s conduct has been calculated by him to make profit for himself which may well exceed the compensation payable to the plaintiff.

In Rookes v. Barnard, Lord Devlin had stated three conditions for the award of exemplary damages:

(i)         The plaintiff must be the actual victim of the punishable behavior of the defendant;

(ii)       The damage must be in defence of liberty as much as against it

(iii)     The means of the parties which is irrelevant in the assessment of compensation will become material in the assessment of exemplary damages.


The following cases are referred to in the judgement:

  • Rookes v. Barnard


The court awarded therefore awarded N10,000 nominal damages and N15,000 exemplary damages against the Defendant.

“…it must be stated that the legal position is that
copyright belongs to the author, who is the one that actually expended the
work, labour, knowledge and skill…. the function of the copyright law is to protect from annexation by other people, the fruits of another’s work, labour, skill or taste and defendant having a monetary benefit from such annexation is a secondary consideration. Copyright protects the expression of an idea rather than the idea itself”….
Hon. Justice M.B. Belgore
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