The great reggae musician Bob Marley passed away more than 30 years ago. Nevertheless, litigation surrounding his music legacy continues on. The Ninth Circuit recently issued an opinion in Rock River Communications, Inc. v. Universal Music Group, Inc. that dealt again with the issue of who owns the rights to Mr. Marley’s music.
Rock River is a producer and distributor of music records. In 2006, it entered into a licensing agreement with San Juan Music Group that granted it a non-exclusive license to “sample” 16 musical recordings performed by Bob Marley and the Wailers. San Juan has been licensing Mr. Marley’s music since 1980 through an agreement with a producer of Mr. Marley’s early recordings, Lee Perry.
Rock River made a series of remixes based on the recordings it had licensed from San Juan and created an album titled, “Roots, Rock, Remixed.” Rock River intended to sell the album on iTunes, distribute it in record stores, and also had plans to allow the use of one of its recordings in the film “Dear John”. Rock River was unaware that any entity had disputed San Juan’s right to license Mr. Marley’s early recordings.