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Little Guy Takes On UMG In Antitrust Fight Over Bob Marley

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Universal Music Group is abusing its market power and violating antitrust law to crush a small music dealer who sells remixes of Bob Marley tunes that the reggae legend recorded for a small studio before he signed with Island Music, now owned by UMG, Rock River Communications claims in Federal Court. Rock River, of Putney, Vt., says it sells the remixes with permission of the Bob Marley estate, and of San Juan Music - from whom UMG also formerly licensed Marley tunes.

Rock River claims that "Bob Marley Island Records/UMG recordings represent more than 90% of the (reggae) market measured over the past 11 years, and UMB distributed reggae music represents about 81% of the total reggae market."

Bob Marley and the Wailers signed with Island Records in 1973 and recorded for them until Marley's death in 1981. But Rock River says Marley recorded from 1969 to 1972 at Lee Perry's studio, and those masters became the property of, or were licensed to, San Juan Records, of Parlin, N.J. Some of these tunes were later re-recorded for Island Records.

Rock River says it produced, sells and distributes the Marley album, "Roots, Rocks, Remixed," from the 1969-72 sessions. It claims to be "the first entity to license name and likeness rights for these 1969-1972 Marley/Wailers recordings from the (Marley) Estate and the first to compensate the Estate for the use of Mr. Marley's artist performances on these masters. ... UMG perceived this as a threatening competitive advantage and was similarly threatened by Plaintiff's cooperative business dealings with the Estate, with whom UMG has been engaged in a series of business disputes and litigation for years."

It claims that "From 1991 until at least 2000, UMG itself became one of San Juan's many licensees ... for more than a dozen of the identical Marley/Wailers sound recordings subsequently licensed by Plaintiff for 'Roots, Rock, Remixed', which UMG then compiled into at least two full length record albums and which UMG sold and distributed on records and compact discs. These are exactly the same underlying recordings that UMG is no stopped Plaintiff from distributing in the marketplace."

Another company, JAD, also has been selling the 1969-72 Marley recordings, though Rock River says it is unclear whether it did this with a license from Perry. UMG signed a 10-year lease with JAD in 2004 for a number of these masters.

"The essence of this claim is the UMG is now using these two conflicting and contradictory 'sets of rights' to exclude Plaintiff from the reggae genre and the Bob Marley genre of the music sound recording market. ... UMG's interest is also to protect the Island Marley masters and ultimately to establish them as the only available Bob Marley masters, especially for licensing use in film, TV, advertising, and mobile phone ringtones. ... (A)nother motivation of UMG is to suppress competition with its own album incorporating Bob Marley remixes, which it released in October 2007, four months after Plaintiff's album was released."

River Rock demands treble damages for interference and antitrust violations. It is represented by Blecher & Collins. See complaint.

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