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Licensing dispute over Bob Marley songs heard in California

There are often a variety of intellectual property and contract disputes revolving around popular media. Many of these disputes revolve around licensing agreements and licensing rights for use or distribution of products or materials.

One such licensing and contract dispute was heard in the federal appeals court in California where disputes have arisen as to who can and cannot distribute remixes of a number of Bob Marley songs. Vivendi SA Universal Music Group Inc. has been accused of illegally blocking Rock River Communications by preventing a release of these songs on an album. Though a lower court originally dismissed Rock River's claims, the matter has since been appealed and now must be revisited at the trial court level.

Universal claims to have purchased the rights to these songs back in 2003. However, Rock River claims to have obtained a license to provide various songs through a 1980 agreement. The appeals court stated that any "absence of legal documentation has led to confusion in the marketplace as to which entities own licensing rights for these recordings."

There are complaints that Universal tried to maintain its exclusive right to these materials through the "threat of litigation" rather than real litigation. The lawsuit is complicated in that no prior lawsuits involving infringement have been filed when questions of licensing should have arisen.

Licensing and intellectual property law areas are extremely complex for any attorney. Most attorneys are not prepared to involve themselves in the intricate nature of claims made involving licensing agreements, contract language, past practices of each business, etc.

With increasing number of media outlets the number of disputes such as the one mentioned above will not likely decrease. The awards in these disputes can also involve tens of millions of dollars. Attorneys that handle these matters will require more than a law degree.

Source: Bloomberg Law, "Pandora, Vivendi, Schlumberger: Intellectual Property," Victoria Slind-Flor, Sep. 19, 2013

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