Reggae Legend Max Romeo Takes on Universal Music Over Alleged Unpaid Royalties

Celebrated reggae musician, Max Romeo, has come forward regarding his legal face-off with Universal Music Group and Polygram Publishing concerning almost fifty years of purported unpaid royalties for hits such as “War Ina Babylon” and “Chase The Devil.”

As the artist nears his 79th birthday, he took a moment on Instagram to express gratitude to his steadfast supporters following news of the massive US$15 million lawsuit filed in the New York Supreme Court.

Addressing his followers, Romeo expressed his frustration, stating, “…I’ve seen many Jamaican musicians face similar neglect from those who vowed to champion our music globally. Yet, once our music crosses borders, we’re often sidelined.” He continued, “For 47 years, I’ve tapped every avenue to seek justice. It’s heartbreaking to see my prominent works taken advantage of while I haven’t been justly rewarded. The only silver lining is that I can perform these songs for my beloved fans.”

Central to the dispute are alleged unpaid royalties from Romeo’s albums, “War Ina Babylon” (1976), a collaboration with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, and “Reconstruction” (1977), a self-produced venture. Both albums were tied to agreements with Christopher Blackwell’s Island Records and Island Music, later bought by UMG and Polygram.

Romeo was keen to clarify that his esteemed partner, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, played no part in the alleged mistreatment. He praised Perry, saying, “Together, we crafted a genre-defining masterpiece that’s resonated for generations. I have nothing but respect for him. He was in no way connected to the issues I faced with Island Records.”

Resolute in his mission, Romeo stated, “At 78, I won’t start this new chapter silently. I need to stand up, to fight for what I deserve. I do this for future generations and wear the titles ‘legend’ and ‘veteran’ with honor. Now, this issue rests with the courts, and I won’t be discussing it further.”

Signing off, he referred to himself as, “A humble man from St. Ann taking on the world’s most formidable record label in the US Supreme Court.”

Details from the lawsuit indicate that UMG remitted only US$125,565.04 to Romeo in September 2021, a sum he considers paltry for the duration from 1976 to 2021.

The litigation highlights potential discrepancies in royalty computations, including overlooked income from multiple editions of the “War Ina Babylon” album and conflicting sales figures for identical tracks across CD compilations. There’s also the matter of potentially missed or insufficient royalties from the utilization of “Chase the Devil” by artists like Jay-Z and The Prodigy, and its appearance in movies and video games such as “Yardie,” “Paul,” and “Grand Theft Auto.”

Romeo’s pursuit of at least US$15 million pertains to breaches in recording and songwriting contracts. A victory could potentially revoke these contracts, granting him full ownership of the two albums in question.