Jamaican producers file copyright suit against record companies

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The Sunday Gleaner

Reports are that Steely and Clevie Productions Ltd, Cleveland Browne and the estate of Wycliffe ‘Steely’ Johnson, has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in California Central District Court against Warner Music, Universal Music Latin Entertainment, Sony/ATV Music Publishing and other defendants.

The suit alleges that several songs recorded by Puerto Rican singer, Luis Fonsi, aka Luis Alfonso Rodríguez López-Cepero, contain original elements from Steely and Clevie’s 1989 song Fish Market aka Poco Man Jam. Law firm Doniger/Burroughs will represent the claimants.

The law firm, which has offices in California and New York, specialises in the protection of intellectual property and the enforcement of artistes’ rights. The company’s website states that it has recovered more than US$100 million for its clients, winning 14 of its last 14 copyright infringement jury trials and prevailing in numerous other on appeal.

When contacted, Scott Alan Burrough of the firm told The Sunday Gleaner, “We do not have any comment at this time, but please check back in the future and we may have an update.”

The Poco Man riddim, one of the most important dancehall riddims of all time, was produced by Steely & Clevie and released in 1990. Popular songs released on the riddim include Gregory Peck, Flourgon, Tie Me Again; Daddy Lilly, When Yu Si Wi Come; Silver Fox & Jackie Chang, Bad Whud and Steely & Clevie, Fish Market.

According to the complaint, “Plaintiff Cleveland Constantine Browne, p/k/a Clevie, is a world-renowned influential and innovative composer, musician and producer known for, inter alia, pioneering the use of drum machines in reggae. Wycliffe Anthony Johnson, p/k/a Steely, was a visionary and innovative composer, musician and producer. Together, Mr. Browne and Mr. Johnson formed the writing, musical and producing duo Steely & Clevie, and worked on numerous genre-defining projects. Mr. Browne and Mr. Johnson worked with a plethora of high profile and internationally famous artists including reggae legends Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Jimmy Cliff, Gregory Isaacs, Ziggy Marley and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. The Estate of Wycliffe Johnson, is the successor-in-interest to Mr. Johnson’s intellectual property rights. Plaintiff Steely & Clevie Productions Ltd. is the production company of Mr. Browne and Mr. Johnson.”

Regarding Fish Market, the complaint states, “In 1989 Mr. Browne and Mr. Johnson wrote and recorded the instrumental song entitled Fish Market (the “Song” or “Fish Market”). The recording and composition for the Song are registered with the United States Copyright Office. Fish Market is an original work including an original drum pattern that gives it a unique sound that differentiates it from prior works.”

It adds, “In 1990, Mr. Browne and Mr. Johnson co-authored the song titled Dem Bow (roughly “They Bow” in English) with Shabba Ranks. Dem Bow was a massive club hit and garnered worldwide acclaim in the international reggae dancehall scene. Dem Bow’s instrumental (which is an alternative mix of Fish Market, based on the same multi-track recording) is iconic and has been acknowledged as foundational to reggaeton music.”

The Sunday Gleaner reached out to Browne, but he was unavailable for comment. Steely passed away in 2009 in New York. He was 47.

WHO IS LUIS FONSI?

The 43-year-old Fonsi is a superstar in the Latin market and here in the USA. His hit single, Despacito, featuring rapper Daddy Yankee, topped the charts in 47 countries in 2017. It was ranked as one of the most successful Spanish-language tracks in pop music history and is the first Spanish song since the Macarena to top the Billboard Hot 100. It received awards at the Latin Grammy for ‘Record of the Year,’ ‘Song of the Year,’ ‘Best Urban Fusion/Performance’ and ‘Best Short Form Music Video’ at the 18th Latin Grammy Awards.

An English remix version of Despacito was subsequently released featuring pop superstar Justin Bieber. It reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 and remained in the top slot for 16 consecutive weeks, tying the record as the longest-reigning #1 song in the chart’s history.

In his decorated career, Fonsi has broken six Guinness World Records and sold more than 11 million records with Despacito, which has over 7 billion views on youtube.

Fonsi has built a substantial fortune with an estimated net worth in the millions, earned from his exploits in music and from investments in the stock market, property holdings, endorsement deals. This is not the first lawsuit that has been filed against Fonsi. In 2019, Newton Cortes filed a complaint against Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, Erika Ender and Universal Music Group alleging copyright infringement in the hit song Despacito. The case was dismissed in August 2020 in a Florida court.

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