Supreme Court confirms Court of Appeal to block Bob Marley claim

April 2016

Music publishing



The Supreme Court in London has confirmed the Court of Appeal and High Court of Justice’s decisions that it is Blue Mountain Music, and not Bob Marley’ original publisher Cayman Music (CMI)(BSI), who owned the copyrights in a number of Marley’s songs. CMI were Marley’s original publisher but it is commonly believed that Marley claimed various friends wrote a number of his songs to avoid the contract terms with CMI which would have automatically transferred the copyrights in his work to the publisher – for ‘No Woman, No Cry’ the credit went to Vincent Ford. CMI had previously said ““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”.
CMI claimed these songs were not included when it sold some of its rights in 1992 to Blue Mountain Music, as Marley, who died in 1981, had penned them under other people’s names-  the ‘Misattribution Ploy’. However High Court  agreed the copyright had “passed” under the 1992 agreement. In his ruling on the case, Deputy High Court Judge Richard Meade concluded that New York based Cayman had no rights to the songs because “Marley did not publicly describe himself as the author”. Besides No Woman, No Cry, the other songs involved were Crazy Baldhead; Johnny Was; Natty Dread; Positive Vibration; Rat Race; Rebel Music (Road Block); Talking Blues; Them Belly Full; Want More; War; Who The Cap Fit and So Jah She.
The judge ruled that the contract between CMI and Island Records, on the face of it, clearly intended to transfer all the rights on all of Marley’s songs. The judge reasoned that it would have made no sense for Island Records to buy all of the rights, but exclude those rights that CMI was disputing and could dispute again, agreeing with Blue Mountain’s arguments that said the “plain intention” of the two companies’ agreement was to “transfer all rights”, arguing on the “straightforward application of ordinary principles of contract law” the claim had to be dismissed.
The Court of Appeal held that, in accordance with the principles of contractual interpretation, the contested songs were included in the 1992 agreement and BSI’s claims that they were not included were unworkable.
BSI Enterprises Limited v Blue Mountain Music Limited [2015] EWCA Civ 1151

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