Nollywood actress Ann Njemanze sued famed filmmaker Zeb Ejiro and two others for copyright infringement.
Ms. Njemanze, famous for playing the title character in the 1996 classic film, ‘domitillahas taken the famous filmmaker to court for infringing on the name ‘Domitilla’ that she had registered.
According to court documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, the actress is demanding N50 million from Mr. Ejiro for trademark infringement.
Also joining the case against Mr. Ejiro were Filmone Entertainment and Film Trybe Media.
In 2020, 24 years after its original release, Zeb Ejiro Productions announced a partnership with FilmOne Entertainment and Omoni Oboli’s Dioni Vision that will see the new version of the Nollywood classic.
Three Nigerian film production companies partnered to produce the sequel in Lagos.
Production on the film was due to begin at the end of that year, while its theatrical release was scheduled for the first quarter of 2021.
In the same year, Ms. Njemanze registered the name ‘Domitilla’, which brought her fame in the Nigerian film industry.
According to court documents, Ms. Njemanze is also seeking N5m for the cost of litigation and attorneys’ fees incurred.
You are also asking the court for an injunction preventing the defendants or anyone else from using your mark (Domitila) or any other mark that is deceptively similar to the registered mark.
Efforts to reach Ms. Njemanze were unsuccessful. Her legal representative, Bartholomew Aguegbodo, declined to comment on the matter, although he confirmed to this newspaper that the case was in court.
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However, Mr. Ejiro, in a defense statement filed by his lawyers led by Rockson Igelige, described Ms. Njemanze’s present action as a gold panning exercise instituted with the intent to gain improper financial gain from Defendants. .
In an interview with this newspaper on Friday, Ejiro, responsible for Nollywood hits such as ‘Nneka the Pretty Serpent’ (1994), ‘Mortal Inheritance’ (1996) and ‘Sakobi the Snake Girl’, among others, said that he approached aa Ms. Njemanze to do a reboot of the film, ‘Domitilla’.
According to him, she demanded more money than he had budgeted for her role.
“I offered her N2m, unaware that she had gone after me to register my intellectual property. I have been using the name for a long time. I have taken ‘Domitilla’ to film festivals all over the world.
“We had to abandon the script and start a new one. The next thing was that she came with the police calling a thief in public. He even went with the police to FilmOne, our partner, to search his office. I tried to contact her, but she refused to answer my calls. I had to ask heads of different guilds to intervene,” she said.
Speaking to this newspaper, Mr Ejiro said he met Ms Njemanze in 1995 when she came to audition for a film, ‘African Queen’, which he produced with veteran singer Mike Okri.
According to him, she lost the role to Omotola Jalade Ekeinde who came in first while Ann came in second.
“I was a little girl then, and I was crying. She said that she deserved to be first because she knew how to act. I saw that, in fact, she could act. So I told her that she would be shooting a movie next year and if she could lose some weight because she was chubby, she would make her the main character in it.
“In February 1996, he contacted me and I saw that he had lost weight. I gave her the leading role in ‘Domitilla’, which she played well. She also reprized the character in 1999 for a part shot in London.
“Now it’s time to reboot, but since she’s much older now, we decided to give her a role as the aunt of one of the characters, but she was asking for N17m for only five scenes,” she said.
In a case filed in the Federal High Court of Nigeria under application number FHC/L/CS/2305/2022 filed by her lawyers led by Mr. Aguegbodo, Ms. Njemanze accuses Mr. Ejiro and the other defendants of of infringing the exclusive right of his brand, ‘Domitilla & Device’, which he registered on September 16, 2020.
However, in their defense brief, the defendants deny their allegations and object to the jurisdiction of the lawsuit.
“The principal of the 1st Respondent (Zeb Ejiro Productions Limited) has been using the word continuously since 1996 in the marketing of the films prior to the date of the Claimant’s alleged application for registration or the alleged registration of ‘Domitilla & Device’ as a trademark. commercial”, his defense readings.
For his part, Ejiro’s legal representative, Igelige, told this newspaper that the filmmaker had given him instructions to bring the actress to justice for breach of trust.
Mr Igelige said: “We will ask you for N500m for using sensitive information you have access to during your role as an actress in the production of ‘Domitilla’ 1 and 2.”
The crime drama film tells the story of a young Domitilla Junior, who goes on romantic and adventurous adventures to survive. She and her gang of prostitute friends unfortunately find themselves involved in the mysterious death of a politician and must do everything possible to prove her innocence.
Domitilla featured A-list actors like Anne Njemanze, Sandra Achums, Kate Henshaw, Adah Ameh, and the late Enebeli Elebuwa to name a few.
Although the main character, Ms. Njemanze, had previously starred in an equally successful film, ‘True Confession’, her role in ‘Domitilla’ saw her assume star status.
The film also made the late Ada Ameh and Alex Lopez instant celebrities.
Like its predecessors, the new version of ‘Domitilla’ also captures Nigeria’s thriving prostitution rings and the determination of a group of women to exert dominance using their thighs.
The film stars some of the best actors in Nollywood, made up of veterans and new generation actors.
Chiwetalu Agwu, Elvina Ibru, Onyinye Odokoro, Stan Nze, Teniola Aladese, Uzoamaka Doris Aniunoh, Ejiro Onojaife, Seun Ajayi, Okey Jude, Chioma Okafor, Chinyere Wilfred, and Sonny Mcdon.
Nollywood and intellectual property theft
Since its inception, Nollywood has been bogged down not only by piracy but also by intellectual property theft.
In 2016, ANA Award-winning playwright Jude Idada accused Nollywood actress and filmmaker Omoni Oboli of stealing his script to use it in his film, ‘Okafor’s Law’.
The indictment resulted in a court order preventing the release of Okafor’s Law.
Later, Ms. Oboli was granted the rights to the story.
Also in 2016, former Inspiration FM host Wana Udobang accused Nollywood director Niyi Akinmolayan of intellectual theft.
Ms. Udobang claimed that Mr. Akinmolayan stole her concept, ‘Room 313’, and turned it into a short film titled ‘Room 315’.
He stated that ‘Room 315’ has a similar plot and name to his experimental series about people who have experienced trauma in therapy, which has been available for viewing since 2015.
The Nigerian Intellectual Property Act provides that copyright may be protected by registration with the Nigerian Copyright Commission. This protects the exclusive right granted to a creator of creative work to reproduce the work for a specified period.