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Marley family loses suit against UMG

Judge rules against higher royalties

A federal judge in New York has ruled in Universal Music Group’s favor in a 2008 suit filed by Bob Marley’s family seeking copyrights and higher royalties for the late reggae star’s albums.

Marley, who died of cancer in 1981, rose to international fame via the disputed Island albums: “Catch a Fire” and “Burnin'” (both 1973), “Natty Dread” (1975), “Rastaman Vibration” (1976) and “Exodus” (1977).

The action, filed by Fifty-Six Hope Road (a company owned by Marley’s widow, Rita, and the late performer’s nine children), had claimed that the Marley family was entitled to ownership of the copyrights to those albums under agreements executed by Marley and Island Records (now part of UMG) in 1972, 1974 and 1975.

In a decision filed Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote found that the disputed recordings were made as “works for hire,” and that plaintiff Fifty-Six Hope Road had failed to supply evidence to the contrary.

“Accordingly, UMG, as Island’s successor-in-interest, is the statutory author and owner of the initial and renewal term copyrights in the Sound Recordings,” Cote wrote.

Jurist denied Marley family’s claim it was due higher digital royalty rates, saying wording of a 1992 royalties agreement was ambiguous.

Attorneys for the Marley family could not be reached for comment.

UMG recently found itself on was on the losing end of another royalties case: A California appellate court ruled against UMG in a suit seeking higher digital royalties brought by the team that discovered Eminem (Variety, Sept. 6).