By Andante Okanya
The battle lines have been drawn in the ringtone case between former Kampala Mayor Haji Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala and telecom operator MTN.
The battle lines were drawn on Monday at the Commercial Court in Kampala, in court presided by Justice Christopher Madrama. Hearing date has been set for April 28.
Prior, when court convened last year on October 21, it set February as commencement of hearing.
However, the lawyers representing the parties explained that some contentious issues had to be resolved with the guidance of court.
Ssebaggala was present with his lawyers Nelson Walusimbi and Alan Musoke of Walusimbi and Company Advocates.
Also present was MTN lawyers Paul Kuteesa and Jet Tumwebaze of Kampala Associated Advocates. SMS Media was represented by lawyer Paul Kauma of Kiwanuka and Karugire Advocates.
The presidential advisor accuses MTN of infringing on his copyright by using his voice recording in various ringtones. SMS Media, which produced the recordings and transmitted them to MTN, is also a party in the case.
Copyright infringement refers to unauthorised use of works owned by a copyright holder who enjoys exclusive rights.
In the suit filed on July 13,2012, Sebaggala is demanding for all proceeds from the sale of the ringtones. Each caller tune cost sh500, and was valid for 30 days. However, MTN has since abandoned trade of the ringtones.
On Monday, at the pre-trial hearing, the parties agreed the main issue for court determination is whether Ssebaggala has copyright to the ringtones which are subject of the suit.
Controversy arose when Ssebaggala’s lawyers pleaded that the plaint be amended. They submitted that the document should reflect that Ssebaggala’s “copyright together with other neighbouring rights” had been infringed on.
But the MTN and SMS Media lawyers asked for time to “consult their clients” before giving an appropriate response.
Accordingly, the judge ordered the parties to file witness statements by March 26, and subsequently set April 28 as the hearing date. In the event of an application for amendment, it will be heard on March 19.
Also at the hearing, court is expected to scrutinise whether Ssebaggala’s speeches are protected works under the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act 2006, Laws of Uganda.
The ex-Mayor, now presidential advisor, contends that MTN’s actions are unacceptable in progressive market economies.
But MTN in its defence acknowledges that although the recording is indeed Sebaggala's voice, it contends that he did not produce the recording nor did he acquire any copyright for the speeches.