BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 14, 2018– The Court of Appeal opened on Monday and the first case on its two-week calendar was the appeal of the Corozal businessman, Curtis Swasey, who won a claim in 2016 in the Supreme Court against Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL). Swasey claimed that BTL had pirated his lottery game show concept and shared the idea with Mek Mi Rich (MMR), a company jointly owned by Sanjay Hotchandani and Andre Vega, the son of former Deputy Prime Minister, Gaspar Vega. While Swasey has taken his case to the Court of Appeal and is seeking more than the $25,000 that the Supreme Court had awarded him, BTL has also filed an appeal against the Supreme Court judgment of Justice Courtenay Abel, hoping that the company could salvage its corporate image, which took a hit when it lost the case in the lower court.
After hearing submissions from BTL’s attorney, Magali Perdomo, and Swasey’s attorney, Eamon Courtenay S.C., the panel of three Appeal justices indicated that they will issue a ruling at a future date.
What led to Swasey’s lawsuit in the first instance was that he had approached BTL with the idea to use its network platform to launch a game show that would have used BTL’s text message SMS (Short Message Service), by means of which all of the company’s customers could have participated.
For about two years, BTL and Swasey were in constant dialogue over the lottery by text message idea. He provided the company with all the technical information to create the lottery by SMS. BTL and Swasey, moreover, had entered a non-disclosure agreement regarding the information that he was providing to them.
After an extensive outlay of time and effort by Swasey to sketch a detailed technical outline of how his game show, Super Slam Sunday, would have worked, profiting both himself and BTL, the company scrapped the idea, telling Swasey that his game show idea did not fit into their corporate plans.
Shortly after scrapping the idea of Super Slam Sunday, BTL launched Mek Mi Rich — a show that featured a concept and set of operations that were almost identical to what Swasey had outlined in the show concept he had pitched to BTL. Swasey felt that BTL had shared his information with the two directors of MMR, Hotchandani and Vega, so he sued both companies, relying on the non-disclosure clause he had signed with BTL when they were in negotiations with him.
On February 23, 2016, Swasey was victorious when Supreme Court Justice Abel ruled that BTL had indeed used his idea for the SMS lottery. Swasey’s attorney, Kareem Musa, who argued the case, was however unable to prove how much money Swasey lost out on when BTL launched Mek Mi Rich on the basis of his idea. The court awarded him damages of $25,000, which he appealed, hoping to convince the Court of Appeal to order a higher quantum of damages for BTL’s breach.
BTL, however, filed its own appeal, and its attorney, Perdomo, set out to convince the panel of Appeal Court judges, made up of the president of the Court, Hon. Justice Manuel Sosa, and Appeal justices Samuel Awich and Lennox Campbell, that the company did not violate the non-disclosure agreement it had signed with Swasey, and that the idea of lottery by SMS was a concept that was already in the public domain.
When he exited the court, Swasey’s attorney in the appeal case, Courtenay, told reporters, “This is not a case of breach of copyright. It’s a breach of information. I am supplying information to you that you and I have agreed should be kept confidential, and the question is whether or not that information was disclosed to MMR. It is not a question of copyright where somebody is proving that I have invented something and that you are trading off the invention that I have made.”
Courtenay explained further, “The trial judge, Mr. Justice Abel, has found that in fact the information was confidential, and the big issue is whether or not it was shared with MMR for MMR to launch Mek Mi Rich. The judge felt that there was, but only awarded twenty-five thousand dollars in damages, so the purpose of our appeal was to raise the amount of damages.
“With respect to Telemedia, they are appealing, saying to the court that the information was information that was publicly available, and Mr. Swasey was not able to prove that it was his. So, there are two appeals, really, one against the finding of the trial judge, and one against the amount of damages.”
In the case argued before the Court of Appeal, Courtenay said, “What we tried to show the Court of Appeal was that the trial judge in fact considered all the evidence; there was evidence before him on which he could have come to the decision he came to. The sharing of the information with MMR is, of course, circumstantial evidence, and we showed to the court certain items of evidence that leads to the inference that there was a sharing, and the reason for that is because it was taking over two years for Swasey to convince Telemedia that they could implement his project, when in fact it took much less than two years, less than a year before they were able to use Mek Mi Rich.
“And so, we are saying that they used the information that Swasey had given to them in order to allow Mek Mi Rich to springboard ahead of him.”