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High Court Spotlight on Bob Marley’s Musical Legacy

The musical legacy of reggae star Bob Marley came under the High Court spotlight as contenders fought it out over who owns the copyright in some of his best known works, including the international hit, ‘No Woman No Cry’.

The dispute – which in part arose due to the pop star’s unusual practice of deliberately mis-attributing his songs to various friends and associates – engaged the High Court in an in-depth analysis of his entire musical career, from the 1960s until his untimely death, without leaving a will, in 1981.

Two companies (the claimants) argued that they had acquired the copyrights in 13 Bob Marley songs from the record label that undoubtedly owned them in 1992. However, another company (the company) contended that it had obtained good title to the copyrights via an agreement signed with the record label’s boss in the same year.

The Court ruled that, on a correct interpretation of the 1992 agreement, the relevant copyrights in the works – which had been mis-attributed by Marley in an attempt to protect his own royalties stream – had passed indirectly to the company and that the claimants therefore had no rights in the works.