Mo Abudu, CEO of EbonyLife Films, has kicked against the N2.5 billion allegedly demanded by Tobore Ovuorie, an investigative journalist, who accused her of copyright infringement with respect to ‘Oloture’, her 2020 movie.
Ovuorie had claimed that Abudu’s film adapted 75 percent of her 2014 undercover investigation on sex trafficking. She also alleged that it was done without her express permission.
The media mogul, however, debunked the allegations in a 10-minute video shared on her Instagram page on Tuesday.
The 56-year-old former human resources management consultant said Tobore’s lawyers sent a letter to her a month after the film was released on Netflix demanding N2.5 billion in compensation.
Abudu also said she had earlier reached out to the publishers of Premium Times, Tobore’s employers as of when the story was filed, and obtained a go-ahead to make the film while promising the reporter a cut from its theatre run.
She said she maintained she would keep her word, even as COVID-19 prevented the movie from going to cinema.
“Tobore wrote the article titled ‘Inside Nigeria’s Ruthless Human Trafficking Mafia’, which was published on August 12 2014 by the Premium Times, her employer at the time. Premium Times Services Limited, the publisher of Premium Times, has disclosed that she can’t lay claim to the investigative report that belongs to them,” she said.
“According to the Premium Times editor-in-chief, only the media company and their partner on that project, Zam Chronicles, can lay claim to the copyright of that report based on Nigeria’s copyright law. We sought and obtained the rights from Premium Times, the owners of the story. As such, we fulfilled our legal obligations.
“And do not take kindly to suggestions stating otherwise. There are several instances where we have acquired the rights to books, stories, and places such as ‘Queen Hunter’ ‘Death of the Kings Horsemen’, and ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’. This is how our industry works. We dare not make a film without acquiring the rights.
“Although I have addressed our legal obligations, there were moral issues to be dealt with in a case like this. In May 2019, 20 months before the launch of ‘Oloture’ on Netflix, we reached out to Tobore to acknowledge her journalistic achievements, to recognize and encourage her in her ongoing campaign against sex trafficking and that of her NGO.
“We granted her a private screening of the movie; gave her a special mention in the end credits of ‘Oloture’. And I interviewed her on ‘Moments with Mo’. In addition, we wrote to her and offered her five percent of the proceeds from our plan to cinema-run to go towards our NGO which she acknowledged. We also reached out to other NGOs.
“This was to pledge proceeds from our cinema run as ‘Oloture was never created as a commercial film. We felt it was an important film to make and donors helped us to raise the money. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, the cinema release never happened. Instead, we decided to partner with Netflix, and the film was released on October 2, 2020.”
“Within a few days (after release), Tobore went on social media making accusations. She wrote to Netflix, launched an attack against Kenneth Inyang, who never saw the script until we approached him to direct. A month after, we got a letter from Tobore’s lawyers alleging copyright infringement and demanding $5 million in compensation.”
Describing Tobore’s monetary demands as “extortionist and blackmailing” in nature, Abudu stated that she might resort to going to court if need be but said she remains open to settling the issue in an “appropriate conversation”.
“At this point, our in-house lawyer suggests that we needed to engage l an external legal counsel l, which we did. We knew we had not I fro fed on her copyright because premium times owned it. We did not have N2.5 billion to give. In order to understand what her demands were based on, our lawyers began meets g with hers,” Abudu added.
“That process stopped because her lawyers disengaged from her. Recently, Tobore started contacting out producers via WhatsApp and send g them horrid messages. To me, Tobore’s demands have become threatening, extortionist, and blackmailing in nature. If she felt she has a legal case, it could be best to come through the proper channels.
“A few days before the film’s release on Netflix, I had sent her a text message: ‘Hi dear, it’s strictly on just Netflix. No co I’m due to covid. I promised you a cash gift towards your foundation and I will still make it happen even though we did not have a cinema release’. However, everything changed after the growing popularity of the film on Netflix.
“Oloture is a story inspired by true events and involving the work of scriptwriters, the development of characters and locations, situations, and occurrences that we’re created by our writers. Certain incidents in Oloture are similar to what happened to Tobore and this is why she was given credits. But it could never be her life story as claimed.
“So many women from around trafficked to Italy have similar stories. Please let’s educate ourselves. If there is one thing I stand for, it’s about integrity, working hard, and standing up for what I believe in. We’ve not exploited Tobore or anyone else and we will not be exploited. The facts are clear. We have everything in writing.
“And we’re prepared to defend ourselves against baseless attacks and legal challenges. We will not be intimidated because of the financial success of Oloture. However, our door is always open to having a conversation that is appropriate and right. Anything else will be refuted and rebuffed and, if necessary, settled in a court of law.”
Based in Lagos, ‘Oloture is the story of a young, naïve Nigerian journalist who goes undercover to expose the shady underworld of human trafficking.
On the other hand, Ovuorie’s investigation, which was published on Premium Times, exposed the syndicates that caused the death of Ifueko, her friend, who returned from sex work in Italy in 1999 with AIDS and died later.