Broward News

Burning Spear, Reggae Star, Sues Fort Lauderdale Company Over Royalties

If any of Jah out there in internet-land are chilled-out rasta fans or just appreciate a good groove, you've probably got some Burning Spear in your iTunes. The Jamaican-born roots musician has been a mainstay on the scene since the 1970s, racking up Grammys and hordes of fanboys and girls over the years. 

But Burning Spear — born Winston Rodney — recently dropped a lawsuit in a New York state court. The target of the legal action is a Fort Lauderdale music company that failed to follow through on a deal to sell the rights back to some of Spear's song.

The lawsuit alleges that before July 2014, Tammi Music LTD owned the copyrights to 63 Burning Spear songs (it's unclear how the company got possession of the copyrights in the first place). That month, Burning Spear and the Fort Lauderdale music company allegedly inked a deal whereby the musician would get "all rights, title, and interest" to those recordings, possession of which would entitle the musician to all "income deriving therefrom." The lawsuit doesn't say how much Burning Spear paid for the rights to the 63 songs. 

As part of the deal, the musician was allowed to perform a financial audit of Tammi within a year of the signing — presumably, Burning Spear wanted a peek at the books to see what kind of revenue was being collected by the use and licensing of those tracks. However, Tammi never handed over the legal documents to transfer the rights, the lawsuit says; the company also didn't allow the musician access to the records to perform the audit. In fact, the legal complaint says Burning Spear had to go around Tammi and contact people using the music directly, personally informing the user that the musician now was to receive royalties.

Despite notices in early 2015 about the company's breach of contract, as of the filing, Tammi still hasn't handed over the rights to the music. The lawsuit was filed in early July in New York, where Burning Spear lives. 

The situation has understandably been frustrating for the recording artist, the latest in a long line of artists screwed over by legal-code origami that obfuscate what logically seems like a simple process — you write the tune, you reap the rights. CourthouseNews reports that in November 2014, Burning Spear appeared in a YouTube video in which he directed strong words at the situation, calling out the company "bootlegging my own catalog." 

"I wasn't singing to be famous or singing to be rich," the musician reportedly said in the clip. "So matters like this you don't talk about it too much; you take it to the court."

We couldn't find the video. It may have been taken down. Just within the last day, Burning Spear posted the following on his Facebook page: "We are in Litigation our Attorney, advise us to remove certain posts, on Youtube Video's."

According to state business records, Tammi Music is currently an inactive corporation run out of a UPS store in Lauderhill. The company's registered owner — Sonia Taylor — couldn't be reached for comment, and no working phone number for the business could be found. Burning Spear's attorney — Willard Shih, located in Woodbridge, New Jersey — declined to comment on the lawsuit at this time. If Tammi Music or Sonia Taylor contacts us, we'll update the post. 

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson