Federal Judge Orders Trial in Copyright Dispute Over Sugar Minott Photo Used by Napster

A federal judge in Seattle has denied summary judgment to both parties in a copyright infringement lawsuit concerning a photograph of the late Reggae and Dancehall artist Lincoln “Sugar” Minott. The case is now set to go to trial.

The legal battle was initiated by British photographer Adrian Boot against Rhapsody International Inc., the operator of the Napster music streaming service. Boot claims that his 1979 photograph of Minott, used as the cover for the 2005 album “Sugar Minott At Studio One,” was later displayed on Napster’s platform without his permission.

U.S. District Judge Kymberly K. Evanson, in a 12-page order issued on May 4, stated that the complexities of the case, including whether Rhapsody had any form of licensing agreement for displaying the photograph on their website, necessitated a jury decision. Originally, Boot had only licensed the image to Soul Jazz Records for use on the album cover for a fee of £552.25. According to Boot, a separate fee of £2,147.56 would have been required for digital use through his company Urbanimage, which Rhapsody did not pay. Rhapsody argued that the use was legal under a chain of licenses starting from Soul Jazz Records to music distributor Play It Again Sam (PIAS), and eventually to Rhapsody/Napster.

The judge also addressed Rhapsody’s assertion that an implied license had been granted by Boot for the photograph’s distribution, stating that there was insufficient evidence to conclude such an intention legally. Moreover, concerning Rhapsody’s claim of an express license through PIAS, Judge Evanson noted the presence of significant factual disputes requiring jury deliberation.

Both parties’ requests for attorney’s fees were denied, and new trial preparation deadlines were set, with a trial date scheduled for June 10, 2024.

Adrian Boot, a former physics teacher in Jamaica, has photographed numerous well-known musicians, including Bob Marley. “Sugar Minott At Studio One” features a collection of Minott’s work from the 1970s at Studio One, with tracks like “Hang On Natty,” “Vanity,” “Jah Jah Children,” and “Love Gonna Pack Up.”

Sugar Minott passed away in July 2010 at the age of 54.