Tewodros Teshome, a renowned film director and writer is off the hook from a court litigation where he was sued for breaching copyright of author, Atenkut Mulugeta, who claimed 10 million Birr compensation, on March 31, 2016.
“Fiker Sibeqele“, is the title of the book claimed to be copied in part and to be adopted into a film Sosit Meazen, produced in 2013. two years after its release the film was acclaimed by the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) for best soundtrack, editing and best supporting actor, Solomon Bogale.
The case presented to the court, initiated in the same year as the award, 2015, alleged that the movie is an adaptation of the book’s storyline.
The movie was produced and released to the public without consulting and securing consent from the author, who has had legally protected copyright of his creative work since 2006 the authors case claims.
The book had sales of 3000 copies in one edition, gaining a financial return of close to 60,000 Birr. The charge further read that though publication of the book’s second edition was in progress, the fact that the movie had copied its concept and setting, would diminish profits.
The defendant argued otherwise.
The movie and the book have different narration and contexts. The Court’s response concluded that there are differences. It showed that the movie’s narration is about the love story of a couple from two countries, Ethiopia and Eritrea, differing from the book’s storyline that revolves around family interference in the love story of two young Ethiopians.
From another angle, the setting is also different in that the book is limited to Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya, while the movie reaches Europe and the US, asserts the replay .
On compensation amount for future losses was not defined, the author continues to claim same based on anticipated reductions in profit from the sale of the second edition. The book’s first edition sold out when the movie was released and therefor the disagree to pay compensation for damage that did not materialise.
Tewodros made a counter argument for compensation for libel, and direct setback from releasing his sequel Sosit Meazen II and failed contracts to distribute the original Sosit Meazen, once distributors knew about the case. He claimed both financial and moral damage.
“I have lost a business deal equivalent to 86,000 dollars,” Tewodros told Fortune. “Because of this suit the partners in US later refuse to sign a deal.”
Frehiwot Tesfaye, the judge presiding over the Sixth Bench, recused himself after examining the documents and had the case transferred to the 13th Bench, disclosing his prior relations with the defendant.
Tewodros came into the film business in the late 90’s as a writer, director and producer of Gilbit Alem, which he followed up with Kezkaza Wolafen. This came after he had established Sebastopol Entertainment Plc, his film company. He has made nine films in total, including the contentious Sost Meazen, as well as Fiqer Siferd, one of his more popular films, and Key Sihtet, a film about the Red Terror era.
Almost a year since the case reached the 13th Bench, the court ruled in the director’s favour.
Evidence and witnesses presented clearly showed that the two storylines are different, revolving around different settings and concepts, the judge, Bisrat Hilku ruled.
Witnesses heard in the case included Solomon Bogale; actor/director, Serawit Fikere; host radio programme Ethiopica Link, Birhane Nigusse; as well as experts from Addis Abeba University and the Intellectual Property Office who were on the side of the defendant. There was one witness for the plaintiff.
Though the case was closed by the 13th Bench of the High Court, it might be far from over, with both parties planning to appeal with their cases made along different lines.
Tewodros lawyer, Elias T Berhan told Fortune that the film maker will redeem his name and will charge Atenkut for intentionally working to defame him.
“The court has ruled without any independent expert opinion and we will definitely appeal,” said Atenkut. “All institutions that were heard were called upon by Tewodros Teshome.“
In his opinion the court should have picked independent experts on its own stand instead of considering those counted by the defendant as independent experts.