Below is the final installment 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. Read part one here and part two here.
Reggae pioneer Bunny Lee produced many of the tracks featured on Absolute Reggae, a CD compilation (below) released in 2001 by EMI in France, but says the music was included without his permission.
EMI claims to have licensed the disputed tracks from a company called Culture Press via the label Charley Records.
Lee insists EMI’s contract must be a forgery as the only contract he signed for those tracks was with Esoldun, a predecessor to Culture Press, in 1991.
Lee (below) says he notified Enzo Hamilton, the owner of Esoldun, Culture Press and a former Trojan Records executive, when the contract expired on 25 January 2001.
To add insult to injury, French collection society SCPP has been paying Lee’s royalties to Culture Press.
France-based intellectual property lawyer André Bertrand is convinced collection societies in Europe have entered into secret and unlawful agreements that make it difficult, if not impossible, for Jamaican artists and producers to collect the monies owed to them.
He has brought a complaint expressing his concerns before the European Commission and is suing collection societies across Europe for failing to redistribute revenue back to Jamaicans.
Bertrand’s primary action will take place against French collection societies ADAMI and SCPP, which he claims deliberately deprive Jamaicans of their royalties.
He believes if his actions are successful, they could start receiving millions every year in legal remuneration – and that’s just in France.
Bertrand says: ‘All the figures are rigged. They collect money for everyone’s music that is played on radio, but then say “We’re not giving money back to artists whose records were made in America, and we’re not paying Jamaicans their equitable remuneration”.
‘In the end, they collect 100 per cent, but only pay out about 20 to 30 per cent, mostly to French men’.
Bertrand’s clients include Bunny Wailer, John Holt, Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths (below).
As reggae’s most successful female vocalist and a member of Bob Marley’s Wailers band, Griffiths is owed thousands in unpaid royalties.
She told Bashment Vibes: “The royalty situation for us as Jamaican artists has been a constant source of frustration over the years. The classics of Jamaican music have sold all over the world.
‘Yet far too often, we don’t receive any compensation from the record companies that release and re-release our work from back in the day.
‘Andre Bertrand has been showing us what we’ve been missing out on in Europe. The fight to recoup what’s due is one of the best and most important things happening in the reggae music industry today’.
Under European law, artists, producers and musicians are supposed to receive a fee from the sale of every song and album, compensating them for private copying (when the public records from TV or radio).
With the advent of new digital recording formats, Bertrand predicts that in France, the amount collected in 2004 for private copying could exceed £150 million.
However, he will have to work hard if Jamaican artists are to receive their fair share of that money.
Bertrand says: ‘Take SPEDIDAM (another French collection society) for instance. In 2002, they collected £10.7m. They had about £1.5m in admin costs; redistributed £4.3m; and gave away £4.7m for their own “cultural”events.
‘Only 45 per cent was allocated to artists, but allocated doesn’t mean paid; artists only received half of the allocated revenue.
‘This thing is so immense, and it’s the same in Germany and many other European countries’.
Bertrand believes that until a centralised list comprising every reggae song is compiled and regularly updated, Jamaican artists will continue to be defrauded of their copyright revenue.
He also wants to reduce the time it takes for artists to receive payments.
At present, it can take up to two years for a payment made to a collection society in France to be sent to the MCPS in England. Only then is the payment forwarded to the musician in Jamaica.
If Bertrand is successful, artists and producers in developing countries all over the world will benefit.
He says: ‘Jimmy Cliff is getting around £2,000-a-year, but the problem is that 80 per cent of that comes from one song, which he sang with a French guy.
‘Cliff has more than 500 songs in his repertoire and is only receiving maybe £2-a-year for his most famous tracks.
‘If we win, it will change the structure of the music business and legal remuneration will become a very important part of the money generated for the benefit of artists and musicians’.