Sun | Jun 13, 2021

How the Marleys fought for Bob’s legacy

Published:Monday | May 17, 2021 | 12:10 AMBarbara Gayle/Contributor
Michael Hylton
Michael Hylton
Rita Marley.
Rita Marley.
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Although it took more than a decade for Rita Marley, the widow of music icon Bob Marley, and his 11 children to get control of his musical assets, they “never give up the fight”, which is the message portrayed in one of Marley’s songs entitled Get...

Although it took more than a decade for Rita Marley, the widow of music icon Bob Marley, and his 11 children to get control of his musical assets, they “never give up the fight”, which is the message portrayed in one of Marley’s songs entitled Get Up, Stand Up.

Queen’s Counsel Michael Hylton, one of the lawyers who was instrumental in spearheading the legal battle for the Marleys, said in an interview last Wednesday that Rita and the children made the right choice in opposing the sale of the assets.

Marley died intestate at age 36 on May 11, 1981, and the court appointed Mutual Security Merchant Bank and Trust Company Ltd as the administrator for the estate.

Hylton said the Marleys complained in the 1980s that the sale price of the assets for US$8.2 million to an American company was too low.

They were not successful in the local courts, but the United Kingdom-based Privy Council upheld the Marleys’ appeal and set aside the sale.

The case was remitted to the Supreme Court, and the Privy Council ordered the administrator to advertise the assets more widely.

A higher price was offered, which would have resulted in each beneficiary getting approximately US$1 million.

“The administrator came to court to seek approval of the sale, but by that time, though, the family and Island Records (owned by Chris Blackwell) had come together to try to find a creative way for the family to acquire the assets,” said Hylton.

“The family members did not have the cash to match an offer like that, but those who were adults were quite prepared to waive any claim to the cash in order to have an interest in Bob’s music assets.”

Hylton said the family devised a way to protect the infants by putting up enough cash through Island Records so that each child could get a guarantee of the US$1 million they would have got from the other sale upon their becoming 18 years old.

The others would waive any share of the purchase price in exchange for getting a share of the assets. Hylton said that an alternative proposal was proferred that each infant, on becoming an adult, would have the option of either accepting the US$1 million, plus interest, or getting an equal share in the assets.

Hylton said the administrator chose to accept and support the offer of the foreign company, and so the matter had to go back to the Supreme Court.

There was a contested hearing before Justice Clarence Walker, now-retired Court of Appeal judge, and in December 1991, he approved the family’s position and the joint-venture offer between the family and Island Records, and the assets were transferred to them.

Commenting on the victory, Hylton said the family’s decision and Walker’s ruling proved ultimately to be the right one. He said the assets have now far exceeded what the family would have received under the sales.

Hylton said that the sale included the image, the likeness, and the right to use Bob’s name and image for promoting products.

“The family was concerned that the sale of the assets to an external commercial entity, whose only concern was to get as many financial returns, would mean that Bob’s name, image, and likeness would be used in ways Bob would never have approved and the family would never approve,” Hylton said.

The lawyer said that there were several instances of litigation against Bob’s estate involving some of his musical associates.

Hylton described some of those legal squabbles as “bitter”, but he disclosed that they have all been settled. He said that several paternity claims to Bob have been disputed and thrown out.

There was also an issue involving the late reggae legend Neville ‘Bunny Wailer’ Livingston, but that was settled years ago, Hylton said.

It is little surprise that Marley’s Redemption Song is Hylton’s favourite song by the global icon and a must-listen overall.

Marley’s greatest strength, Hylton said, was his songwriting skills.

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