Sun | May 31, 2020

Laws of Eve | Protecting your musical rights

Published:Friday | February 17, 2017 | 12:00 AMSherry-Ann McGregor

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

It is this concept that presents the biggest challenge in relation to the creation of music because young musicians invariably identify older musicians by whom they say they are inspired. The young musicians also often play their idols' music until they create their own catalogue.

Although "imitation is the greatest form of flattery", in the world of copyright, that imitation comes at a cost - sometimes a very high cost, and there is no shortage of decided cases to demonstrate this fact.

One example from the 1970s involves the 1962 recording of He's So Fine by The Chiffons, and the first single released by George Harrison - My Sweet Lord.

Although the judge seemed to excuse Harrison by finding that the copying of He's So Fine was not deliberate, the "subconscious plagiarism" that resulted in the two songs being "virtually identical" cost Harrison US$587,000 in 1976.

From one case that was obvious to one that was nuanced - the 2015 Blurred Lines verdict was based on the 'feel and vibe' of the music. Many musicians raised concerns about the ruling because they argued that it was establishing a new standard by narrowing the gap between permissible inspiration and unlawful recording.

After the release of Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams in 2013, they failed in their defence of a lawsuit by Marvin Gaye's estate that they had breached the copyright in the sheet music for the singer's 1977 hit, Got to Give it Up. The award of US$7.3 million to Gaye's estate was eventually reduced to US$5.3 million on appeal.

Right here at home, some of the most recognisable reggae icons have also had legal battles over copyright in some music we all know and love. In 2002, Keith Anderson (aka 'Bob Andy'), sued Clement Seymour Dodd (aka 'Sir Coxsone Downbeat') over the copyright of several songs, including I've Got to Go Back Home. The fact is that there was no dispute about the fact that Bob Andy had written the songs. The issue was whether the author had the copyright. Unfortunately, I do not know the answer, because the matter was referred to mediation and I did not find a final judgment.

A 2016 report stated that Allan 'Skill' Cole, Bob Marley's long-time friend, had sued the late singer's estate for infringement of copyright by alleging that he co-wrote War and Natty Dread. He is contending that the names of other authors were substituted for his on the record labels. The outcome of this case is not yet known.

Two points are clear from the examples set out above. First,

creators of original musical works must protect their copyright through registration; and there are avenues for redress for breach of copyright.

- Sherry-Ann McGregor is a partner and mediator in the firm of Nunes Scholefield DeLeon & Co. Please send questions and comments to or