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Long-running Marley songs dispute heading for high court

By | Published on Friday 11 April 2014

Bob Marley

Two music publishing firms with long-term connections to the late Bob Marley are heading to the High Court in London next month in a long-brewing legal battle over the copyrights in some of the reggae star’s songs, most notably ‘No Woman, No Cry’.

The two publishing firms going into battle are Cayman Music and Blue Mountain Music, the latter the music publishing outfit founded by Chris Blackwell, which spun out of his Island Records business before the label’s acquisition by what became Universal Music.

At the centre of the dispute are a handful of songs widely believed to have been written by Marley in the early 1970s, but which at the time were credited to his friends, in the case of ‘No Woman, No Cry’ the credit went to Vincent Ford.

It has long been speculated – in various newspaper articles and other court cases – that Marley did this to circumvent his contractual commitments to Cayman Music, his original publisher, which had signed the reggae man in 1967. The story goes that Marley was still in contract with Cayman, but didn’t want them to get control of any new songs he penned, so he allowed others to be credited so ownership would fall elsewhere. Along the way control of the songs fell to Blackwell’s Blue Mountain Music.

40 years on, Cayman reckons that enough has now been said, and admitted to by people close to the situation, for the claim that Marley wrote these songs to be uncontroversial. And now the company wants to enforce its 1960s contract to claim control and royalties from the allegedly misattributed songs.

Confirming that the long-running dispute was now heading to court, Cayman said in a statement earlier his week: “It is now common ground between the disputing parties that the songs – including ‘No Woman, No Cry’ – were actually written by Bob Marley but that the music publisher’s share was never credited to Cayman Music, who have now been denied their contracted entitlement for more than 40 years”.

The court case will likely put decades old disputes between various Marley collaborators back under the spotlight, with the Cayman side likely to suggest that Blackwell’s legendary role in discovering Marley has often been exaggerated.

The statement from Cayman concluded: “On 12 May this fascinating and unique story involving a complex cast of characters, the most successful black artist of all time, and his most famous song, purportedly stolen from its rightful owners before it was even recorded, may be one step closer to a resolution. Perhaps, too, a little unknown history will also be restored to the record books”.