Probate Lawyer Blog: While being widely loved for spreading reggae music throughout the world, Bob Marley stood for more than just music. His songs promoted freedom for poor and oppressed people throughout the world, social equality, and justice. Marley even won the 1978 United Nations Medal of Peace.
Sadly, events surrounding his estate have been anything but consistent with his musical legacy. 2011 marked the 30-year anniversary of the day Marley died of cancer, at the age of 36, on May 11, 1981. In those 30 years, his estate has seen far too many court fights, lawsuits and money-grabs to count. And that legacy of fighting over money doesn’t seem likely to end any time soon.
Just last week, a corporation owned by his widow, Rita Marley, and his nine children, sued Richard Booker and two corporations he owned. Who is Richard Booker? Bob Marley’s half-brother. Among other Jamaica-based business ventures, Booker operates musical festivals and a company which gives tours of the village where Marley was born and is now buried.
These lyrics from Marley’s song, Guiltiness, from the famed Exodus album are particularly appropriate:
These are the big fish
Who always try to eat down the small fish,
Just the small fish.
I tell you what: they would do anything
To materialize their every wish.
Indeed, fish are at the heart of this legal dispute. One of the primary targets is Booker’s effort to trademark the term “Mama Marley” for use in marketing a series of good and services. What goods and services? The lawsuit identifies them as being, “fish; fish and chips; fish cakes; fish croquettes; fish fillets; fish mousse; fish sausages …” Well, you get the idea (not that we have any idea of what a “fish sausage” is).
This fishy family fight is only the most recent in a very long list of legal battles involving Marley’s wife and children, as they aggressively control commercial uses of Marley’s image, name, lyrics, and almost everything else associated with the man who rose humbly from very-poor roots in Jamaica to be one of the most well-respected musicians of all time.
Marley was said to be worth about $30 million when he died. He was far from naive about his finances, having set up a number of corporations to manage his assets. The problem was that Bob Marley never had a will, even though he knew he was dying of cancer for at least a year before he passed.