The £100m Reggae Robbery

100 million pound reggae robbery featuring John Murray Smith, Andre Bertrand, Island Records, Virgin Records, EMI, Trojan Records, Culture Press, Enzo Hamilton, ADAMI, Bunny Lee, Max Romeo and Jimmy Cliff

Below is the first of a three-part report, originally published in New Nation newspaper in 2004, exposing how record companies and so-called ‘collection societies’ deprived reggae artists of millions of pounds in publishing and royalty revenues.


The £100m Reggae Robbery’ investigation revealed how France-based intellectual property lawyer André Bertrand and John Murray-Smith, ex-director of British company Definite Publishing, fought on behalf of reggae stars such as Jimmy Cliff (below), Sly and Robbie, Max Romeo, Bunny Lee and Winston McAnuff to recoup revenue from record labels such as Island, Virgin, Trojan and Culture Press.

Murray-Smith and Bertrand also claimed that collection societies in France had entered into secret and unlawful agreements that made it almost impossible for Jamaican musicians to collect monies owed to them.

Over the next few years, Murray-Smith’s partnership with Bertrand helped establish several precedents in European law. Below are some of their achievements:

*Murray-Smith helped to administer over €1.4 million (around £2 million) in litigation settlements to more than 240 reggae artists.

*French collection society ADAMI agreed to pay around £970,000 to 250 reggae artists for the broadcasting of their music on French TV and radio between 1993 and 2005.

*The Court of Paris ruled against Virgin’s parent company EMI and fined the label for featuring songs on a compilation CD released in France, Absolute Reggae, without permission from either the artist or producer.

*The same court ordered Culture Press, run by Enzo Hamilton, to pay damages of £40,000 to Romeo; £10,200 to Mcanuff; £1,500 to Lee; and imposed a penalty of £6,800 (€10,000) for every album the French record company sold without permission after May 2005.

*Bertrand won a court action stopping British label Trojan Records from selling the DVD Bob Marley Live in France, after he discovered the surviving members of Marley’s Wailers band were not receiving any revenues from its sale.

The £100m Reggae Robbery: Part One

A France-based intellectual property lawyer is spearheading a campaign for reggae artists to recoup up to £100 million of unpaid royalty and publishing payments.

In November 2003, attorney André Bertrand won a court action to stop British reggae label Trojan Records selling a Bob Marley Live in France DVD, after he discovered the surviving members of Marley’s band were not receiving any revenues from its sale.

He told Bashment Vibes: ‘That is a victory for us because it creates precedent in France, and the French market is much larger than the British market. Everyday I’m discovering more reggae albums which have been licensed without the artist or producer knowing about it.’

In Jamaica, most artists, musicians and producers claim not have received their fair share of monies due to them through royalties and publishing rights. But how is this possible; reggae’s popularity is indisputable and Jamaican music is sold all over the world and used in TV adverts to sell everything from washing powder to margarine?

Since 1964 when Millie Smalls (below) reached number two in the UK charts with My Boy Lollipop, international record labels and companies have made millions selling reggae.

However, despite the genre’s commercial appeal, only a small percentage of these profits filter back down to the original music makers. To understand why most Jamaican musicians end up penniless, it is necessary to take a brief look at the history of the business.

Despite the recent success of dancehall acts such as Beenie Man, Sean Paul (below) and Elephant Man, the majority of reggae songs sold globally were recorded between 1958 and 1978.

During this period, the industry was crude and unsophisticated. Producers auditioned acts and if they were good, the artist(s) would record a song, receive a one-off payment and then wait for the track to be played at a local event.

If it was popular, the artist(s) earned money performing at concerts and the producer made a small profit selling the records in Jamaica. Revenues were small; producers rarely made contracts with artists; and very few kept a detailed list of their productions: this is the fundamental problem.

Most of their music was released as seven-inch singles, but as reggae became more popular in the late 1960s, producers began licensing their songs to US, British and European labels who compiled, re-packaged and sold them as albums.

Over the past 40 years, these albums have sold hundreds of millions of copies, but very few artists benefited financially as they either unknowingly signed away their rights, or never signed a contract at all.

The contracts where artists signed away their rights forever would not stand up in a court today, but without expensive legal assistance, Jamaican musicians face an uphill battle to recoup the millions they have been cheated out of.

Normally, musicians receive a small percentage from each single or album sold by the record company, and earn additional income every time their music is played on TV or radio. Revenue from these public broadcasts is gathered together by collection societies and redistributed to the artist.

But in the case of reggae, many record companies and collection societies have collected royalties, but failed to pay out.

Two of the biggest financial losers include Max Romeo (below), who is owed by British record labels, and Jimmy Cliff, owed by collection societies in Europe.

As the star of the cult film that introduced Jamaican culture to international audiences, The Harder They Come The Harder They Come (Soundtrack) - Jimmy Cliff (above), and writer of classics such as Many Rivers to Cross Many Rivers to Cross - Jimmy Cliff and You Can Get It If You Really Want The Best of Jimmy Cliff - Jimmy Cliff, Cliff is widely acknowledged as the world’s most famous living reggae artist.

However, in France (arguably Europe’s biggest reggae consumer), although various societies have collected money on his behalf, Cliff has received only a small percentage of the money he is owed.

In 1997, an official audit by France’s Ministry of Finance uncovered major discrepancies in the organisation and operation of one of the country’s collection societies, ADAMI.

Adami Collection Society for performing artists reggae

Three years later, an inquest into ADAMI’s affairs revealed that while the organisation claimed to have paid around £108,200 to 20 artists residing in Jamaica, Cliff was the only artist to receive any money – and that was only a fraction of what he was due.

ADAMI has collected revenue on behalf of the Bob Marley Estate, Burning Spear, Sly and Robbie, Freddie McGregor, Horace Andy, Romeo and countless others since 1986.

Bertrand believes at least £2 million has been ‘diverted’ from these artists, with the full knowledge of the French government.

Similarly, Romeo claims to have received hardly any royalties from Island Records for his album War Ina Babylon, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies since 1976 and includes the frequently sampled single I Chase the Devil (above).

Despite numerous attempts to contact representatives from Island Records and ADAMI, no one from either organisation responded to our calls and emails.

Read part two here

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One Response to The £100m Reggae Robbery

  1. Michael Wlosik says:

    It is a scandal. The Musicians wrote hundrets of great Songs. They have the right to get paid for their work. Island records, Trojand etc shame on you!!!!!

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