Entertainment Law Reporter
July 2006 Volume 28 Number 2

British court rejects claims for royalties and infringement damages sought by former member of Bob Marley’s band against Universal-Island Records

Universal-Island Records has defeated claims filed against it by a former member of Bob Marley’s reggae band the Wailers.

Aston “Family Man” Barrett sued Universal-Island – for himself and on behalf of his brother Carlton – seeking royalties under recording contracts entered into by Marley with Island in the 1970s. Barrett also asserted that he and his brother co-wrote some of Marley’s songs, and thus were co-owners of their copyrights; and Barrett sought copyright infringement damages from Universal-Island on account of its continued distribution of recordings of those songs, without, Barrett alleged, licenses to do so.

In a very long and factually-detailed decision, U.K. Chancery Court Justice Lewison has rejected all of Barrett’s claims. This is not the first such case Barrett had filed; earlier lawsuits in Jamaica and New York were settled in 1994. And Justice Lewison found that the claims made by Aston Barrett on his own behalf in his British case had been waived by him in the 1994 settlement agreement.

On the other hand, Aston’s brother Carlton was murdered in 1987 and was not a party to the 1994 settlement. Thus, Justice Lewison concluded that Aston was entitled to pursue Carlton’s claims, as the administrator of Carlton’s estate. But the Justice rejected those claims on their merits.

Justice Lewison found that neither of the Barretts had been parties to the Island recording contracts. Instead, Bob Marley entered into those agreements with Island himself and had simply paid the Barretts for their recording and live performance services.

Justice Lewison also found that neither of the Barretts co-wrote Marley’s songs. Even if they had, the Justice said, they impliedly licensed Universal-Island to release recordings of those songs. And thus the record company had not infringed any copyright interest they may have had.

Barrett v. Universal-Island Records Limited, [2006] EWHC 1009 (Ch), available at http://www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk/judgmentsfiles/j4260/barrett_v_island_0506.htm