Published January 13, 2015
Verizon Wireless resumed selling mobile phone ringtones Friday based on Bob Marley songs, despite objections from the estate of the late reggae music star to a licensing deal struck between the wireless carrier and recording company Universal Music Group.
Universal Music owns the rights to distribute some of the biggest hits by Marley and his band, The Wailers, including "I Shot the Sheriff," "Buffalo Soldier" and "Redemption Song."
The company struck what was initially an exclusive deal with Verizon Wireless late last month allowing Verizon Wireless to sell cuts of the songs for use as customized ringers on its mobile phones.
The Marley estate objected, claiming Verizon Wireless failed to get permission from the singer's family before making use of his music and likeness on its Web site. The estate threatened to sue for trademark infringement.
"This is really between Universal and the Marley estate," said Nancy Stark, a spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless.
On Monday, Verizon Wireless took down the songs to give Universal Music and the Marley estate time to work out the dispute.
Verizon Wireless reversed that action Thursday, after Fifty Six Hope Road Music Limited, the company owned by Marley's family, put out a statement noting that the wireless carrier had ceded to its demands to take down the songs.
In the statement, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, who is credited with introducing Marley's music to the world, accused Verizon Wireless and Universal Music of trying to circumvent the Marley estate.
"It is disturbing that these companies refuse to give the musicians the respect they deserve." said Blackwell, who is serving as a consultant to the Marley family.
"We cannot and will not allow Bob Marley's name and likeness to be used in such a manner without the authorization of the family," he said.
On Thursday, the record company issued a statement saying its deal with Verizon only involved ringtones and does not constitute an overall endorsement of the wireless carrier.
Universal Music also said it would make Marley's music available for sale by all wireless carriers.
Stark declined to disclose the terms of Verizon Wireless's licensing deal with Universal but said the record company's decision to make its Marley songs available to other wireless carriers does not violate the terms of the companies' agreement.
Verizon Wireless initially approached the Marley estate to reach an endorsement deal in March, according to the Marley family statement.
Stark said the company had not heard from the Marley estate since it resumed selling the ringtones this week.
Attempts to reach someone at Fifty Six Hope Road Music were not immediately successful Friday.
Universal Music, a unit of Paris-based entertainment and telecom conglomerate Vivendi SA, declined to comment.
Marley, who died in 1981 at age 36, is widely credited with introducing reggae music to an international audience in the 1970s.