Let's Get Together and Deal All Right

After six years of litigation and millions of dollars in legal fees, one strand of Bob Marley's tangled estate has been sorted out. Almost.

*Takes over the estate's litigation against Cayman Music, which allegedly owes the estate back royalties and interest of more than two million dollars.

* Assumes defense of the action brought against the estate by several members of Marley's back-up band, the Wailers, who claim they're entitled to royalties even though they never signed any contracts with Marley.

* Buys Marley's property in Jamaica at newly appraised values.

* Waives the adult beneficiaries' rights to monetary proceeds from the sale.

* Immediately pays $995,000 in cash to each of the five minor beneficiaries and distributes to them what's left of the purchase price after all the legal bills and estate taxes are paid.

According to Walker, the Island/beneficiaries' proposal offered several advantages over the MCA offer, including a larger amount of money for the child beneficiaries; maintenance of litigation against Cayman Music; and the pre-empting of possible litigation by Island Logic (which claimed it was owed a fee for managing some of Marley's assets since his death, according to estate administrator Bingham). In addition, Walker considered what he referred to as the "minor" issue of sentimental value. "Taking the factor of sentiment into account...I ask the question: All other things being in their favor, who better than the widow and children of Bob Marley to own the music of Bob Marley?" wrote Walker in his decision. "It seems to me that the answer must be no one." After making his ruling, the judge sent away the lawyers for both sides to work out the details of a court order, which Walker signed December 20.

Which, as Chris Blackwell says, settled the purchase of the estate.
Wrong. Since December 20, estate administrators and attorneys for the Marley family have been locking horns over the terms of the order. "In my view, [the judge's order] was the end of the matter," says Michael Hylton, a Jamaican attorney representing the purchasing group in the Jamaican courts. "The administrator has taken the view that there is still scope to argue the terms of the document. There has therefore been a dispute as to whether the order can be renegotiated."

Attorneys for both sides met in Miami late last month to work out their differences, and met again in Jamaica a week ago Friday. "There are one or two outstanding issues, and I have confidence that we can resolve those quickly," Hylton says. "No, I would say I'm optimistic we can resolve them." In these protracted estate proceedings, he adds, there's little room for confidence.

Even with a final agreement on the terms of the sale, Bob Marley won't exactly be able to rest in peace. Former advisers to Marley's widow, Rita, face charges that they defrauded the estate of about $14 million in assets while Rita managed the estate from the time of Marley's death until 1986. And there's still the matter of the Wailers' claims and the lawsuit against Cayman Music. There also remain several other smaller issues, ancillary estate administrator Bingham says, including a tax claim against the IRS filed by the estate, and a tax liability issue in the United Kingdom.

But completing the sale to Blackwell's group would remove the largest obstacle to a resolution of the morass, which to date has generated millions of dollars in legal and accounting fees. Michael Hylton explains that representatives from both Island and the family will oversee the management of the estate once the sale is complete. The agreement between Blackwell and the Marley family stipulates that at the end of the century, the family take over full management of the estate, Hylton says.

It remains unclear, though, how Blackwell and the beneficiaries will exploit the vast marketing potential of the estate's artistic assets. "Until the sale is complete, we could not make any kind of statement or announcement," Hylton says. "There are a great number of projects we are looking at and a number of different people have contacted us."

Chris Blackwell also refuses to offer any details about the group's plans for the estate. "I think the main thing is to keep the spirit of what Bob Marley wants us to do while trying to maximize the income," he says, adding that Island Records and the beneficiaries have already turned down a "huge" contract from Miller Brewing Co. to use a Marley tune in a commercial. Marley's religion didn't permit him to drink alcohol. "We haven't compromised anything to do with Bob," Blackwell insists, "and we don't intend to.

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