Max Romeo On Legal Battle Against Universal Music: “I Have To Speak Up, I Have To Fight”

Veteran Reggae artist Max Romeo has issued a public statement on his legal battle with Universal Music Group and Polygram Publishing, Inc. over nearly five decades of allegedly unpaid royalties for iconic songs like War Ina Babylon and Chase The Devil.

The singer, who turns 79 next month, took to Instagram on Wednesday to thank the supporters who had reached out to him after DancehallMag reported that the US$15 million lawsuit had been filed in the New York Supreme Court.

Romeo noted that he was forced to take the matter up in court after being overlooked all this time. “…Many Jamaican singers and songwriters have faced the same injustice I have from the people who promised to take our music across barriers, and as soon as the music gets there, we are pushed to the side and disregarded,” he began.

“After 47 years, I have exhausted every resource available to me to get this matter rectified. I had to sit to the side as my most eminent piece of work was exploited without proper compensation. I have seen and heard my music and voice being used in numerous commercial ventures and have only reaped from the opportunity to perform these songs for my fans live in concert.”

The matter centers on allegedly unpaid royalties from Romeo’s albums War Ina Babylon (1976), produced in collaboration with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, and Reconstruction (1977), which was self-produced. The albums were released under recording and songwriter agreements with Christopher Blackwell’s Island Records and Island Music, which UMG and Polygram later acquired.

In his statement, Romeo emphasized that his late collaborator, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, had nothing to do with the lawsuit and, did not enable, in any way, the exploitation that he allegedly endured over the years.

“Lee Scratch Perry was a genius and I am eternally grateful for the work he has put into making this project what it was-we worked together to create a genre defining body of work that has transcended generations. I have the utmost respect  for him, hence I must clarify that he had absolutely nothing to do with the lawsuit and the abuse I have received from Island Records,” he said.

Romeo added: “At 78 years old, I cannot enter this new phase of my life being docile and silent, I have to speak up, I have to fight for what is rightfully mine with whatever strength left in me. I have to do this for the new generation to come, to raise awareness as I am often addressed as “legend” or a “veteran” a title I take with great pride. This matter is now in the hands of the court and I will not be commenting on it any further.”

The statement was signed, “A little man  from rural St. Ann fighting the biggest recording label in the world in the Supreme Court of the United States of America.”

In his complaint, Romeo revealed that UMG only paid him US$125,565.04, in September 2021, which he claims is far from adequate for the period 1976 through 2021.

The lawsuit pointed out inconsistencies in royalty accounting, including unaccounted income from the “numerous” pressings of the War Ina Babylon album and different sales reported for the same songs on a CD compilation.

It also raised the issue of unaccounted-for or underpaid royalties from the use of Chase the Devil by other musicians, such as Jay-Z and The Prodigy, and in films and video games, such as Yardie, Paul, and Grand Theft Auto.

Romeo is seeking at least US$15 million for the breach of the recording and songwriting agreements, along with a complete accounting of his royalties. If he’s successful, the lawsuit could also rescind the two agreements, making him the legal owner of the two albums.

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