Sunny Ade’s 38-Year- Old Legal Battle
Almost four decades after a court ruled in his favour in a dispute over the seizure of his master tapes by two record labels, King Sunny Ade is still in court fighting for same
Thirty-eight years after a Lagos High Court delivered judgement in favour of juju music star, King Ade, the musician is yet to retrieve his master tapes of forty long playing records he waxed on the labels of African Songs Limited and Take Your Choice Records Stores Limited.
The legal dispute over the master tapes kicked off in 1974, when Sunny Ade, who signed a five-year contract with the two recording companies, released a record titled Ekilo Fomode on his Sigima Disc label. The album became a smash hit with music fans, but not with the late Chief Bolarinwa Abioro, proprietor of the two labels.
Abioro viewed the musician’s action as a breach of the subsisting contract with his labels. Sunny Ade, however, claimed that the contract had expired. Prior to the start of litigation, prominent figures, including General Adeyinka Adebayo (retd.), a former military governor of the old Western State, and Prince Okunade Sijuwade, who later became the Ooni of Ife, intervened–unsuccessfully–to bring about a resolution.
In between, Abioro propped up Emperor Pick Peters, who rose in popularity on account of his scathing lyrics directed at Sunny Ade. On Sunny Ade’s side was Admiral Dele Abiodun, whose innuendo-laden lyrics were directed at Pick Peters. Eventually, the rift resulted in litigation in 1974. On 14 February, 1975, the court ruled that the recording contract in question had expired since it was only for a period of five years.
However, the musician’s master tapes were not returned till Abioro died despite repeated demands. In 1997, Sunny Ade instructed his lawyer, Chief Felix Fagbohungbe (SAN), to institute a legal action not only against African Songs Limited, Take Your Choice Record Stores Limited, Lati Alagbada Records, Records Manufacturers of Nigeria Limited, Ibukunola Printers Limited, Alhaja Awawu Ade Amodu and M.O. Alagbeda. The musician alleged that his copyright was infringed upon. As compensation, he and his label, Sigma Disc Nigeria Limited demanded the sum of N50million from the defendants.
In his statement of claim, King Sunny Ade averred that he is author, composer, and owner of the copyright of all the musical works when his band was variouly known as Sunny Ade and his Green Spot Band and Sunny Ade and His African Beats and that he assigned the exclusive copyright of all his past and present musical works for effective cordination, distrbution and sale to Sigma Disc since 1975.
In their statement of defence, African Songs Limited, Take Your Choice Records and Lati Alagbada claimed that Sunny Ade was never the exclusive owner of the copyright of the musical works composed by the Green Spot Band of which he was a member by virtue of the contract agreement between him and African Songs as well as seven others professionally known as the Green Spot Band and cannot assign any of the musical works he co-produced for African Songs between 1970 and 1975 unilaterally.
The defendants stated further that the copies of the musical works and photographs of the musician are exclusively owned by them by vritue of the contract agreement, which subsists till date and therefore have the right to produce the works.
They regarded the suit as vexatious and an abuse of court process, arguing that Sunny Ade is not entitled to any of the relief he is seeking. They also urged the court to dismiss same and award substantial costs against him.
The presiding judge, Justice James Tsoho, adjourned hearing till next month.