The family of reggae legend Bob Marley has lost a lawsuit seeking ownership of his most famous tracks.
Executives at UMG Recordings were declared the rightful owners of copyrights to five albums that Marley recorded between 1973 and 1977 for Island Records.
The decision, which came down in Manhattan on Friday, is a defeat for Marley's widow, Rita, and nine children, who had sought to recover millions of dollars in damages over UMG's effort to "exploit" what they called "the quintessential Bob Marley sound recordings."
The albums in the haul include "Catch a Fire," "Natty Dread" and "Exodus" and were all recorded with Marley's band the Wailers.
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Marley died of cancer in 1981, at age 36.
The Marley family accused UMG of intentionally withholding royalties from them and ignoring a 1995 agreement assigning them rights under the original recording agreements.
UMG also was accused of failing to consult with the family on key licensing decisions, including the use of Marley's music as ringtones on AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile phones, court papers show.
But U.S. District Judge Denise Cote ruled that Bob Marley's recordings were "works made for hire" as defined under U.S. copyright law, entitling UMG to be designated the owner of those recordings, for both the initial 28-year copyright terms and for renewals.
"Each of the agreements provided that the sound recordings were the 'absolute property' of Island," Cote wrote. "Whether Marley would have recorded his music even if he had not entered the recording agreements with Island is beside the point."
She said it was irrelevant that Marley might have maintained artistic control over the recording process. What mattered, she said, was that Island had a contractual "right" to accept or reject what he produced.
Cote also denied the family's request for a ruling upholding its claims over digital downloads, citing ambiguity in a 1992 royalties agreement.
She directed the parties to enter court-supervised settlement talks and scheduled an Oct. 29 conference.
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