Bob Marley: dud case lost again in Court of Appeal

blue mountainIP Draughts has previously reported on a case in the English High Court, over the ownership of copyright in some Bob Marley songs, including No Woman No Cry.

The claimant lost that case and appealed. Last week, the Court of Appeal’s decision in the same case was handed down. In BSI Enterprises Ltd and another v Blue Mountain Music Ltd [2015] EWCA Civ 1151, the claimant lost again.

The central issue in the case was whether copyright in a set of Bob Marley compositions had transferred under an agreement made in 1992.  The songs were not mentioned by name in this agreement, unlike many other of Bob Marley’s songs. But the agreement included wording that broadened its scope beyond the named songs.

If the answer to that question was “no”, then copyright remained with the seller, and a later assignment from the seller to the claimant was effective. If the answer was “yes”, then the later assignment couldn’t transfer what the seller didn’t own. Thus, the case turned on an interpretation of the 1992 agreement.

The claimant’s counsel in the High Court, Hugo Cuddigan, had argued that the parties to the 1992 agreement had deliberately omitted the songs in question from a schedule to the 1992 agreement, and that this was part of the factual matrix in light of which the agreement should be interpreted. The judge at first instance rejected this argument, preferring to rely on the words of the agreement. These words made clear “almost to the point of redundant repetition” that all Bob Marley songs were included, whether or not they were listed in the schedule.

On appeal, the claimant had a new counsel, Madeleine Heal. She obtained permission from the court to base her case on a different argument. Her line was that a close analysis of the words of the agreement led to the conclusion that the songs in question were not covered by the assignment.

The agreement provided for the assignment of copyright in the Compositions, a term that was capitalised in the agreement. But what did this term mean? Clause 1 of the agreement set out a list of definitions. Clause 1.8 was headed “Composition” and “Catalogue”. The text of clause 1.8 included, at the end of a lengthy sentence, the words individually a “Composition” and collectively the “Compositions”. Admittedly the definition slightly muddled up the two terms, Composition and Catalogue, but the wording was broad in scope, and included the phrase including, but not by way of limitation, the Catalogue listed on Schedule 2 hereto. There is no suggestion in clause 1.8 that the definition of Composition is limited to the songs listed in Schedule 2.

no noAccording to Ms Heal, one shouldn’t look at the definitions clause to find the definition of Composition. Oh no, no, no, no. Instead, one should look at the warranty clause, which included, at clause 5.10, a warranty by the seller that “Schedule 2 contains a complete and accurate list of all the Compositions.”

Moreover, continued Ms Heal, a recital to the agreement stated that the seller wished to sell “certain” music publishing rights and interests, which proved that only some, and not all, of the seller’s interests were to be transferred.

Oh dear. Kitchen LJ’s mild response to these and similar arguments was that he was “unable to accept” them, they were “unsustainable”, he was “wholly unpersuaded”, and there was “nothing in this criticism”.

Thank goodness for small mercies.

To IP Draughts’ mind, the court at first instance and the Court of Appeal had a relatively straightforward task to interpret the 1992 agreement, and they performed it well. No new point of law arises from the case. There is no guidance that needs to be given to drafters in light of the case. It is an illustration of how far a party is prepared to go to try to protect its business interests, by pursuing a dud case all the way to the Court of Appeal.

 

 

 

 

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