Musical Youth loses court battle over Pass the Dutchie royalties

Former members of 1980s reggae band Musical Youth, who had a hit with ’Pass the Dutchie’ in 1982, have lost their royalties legal battle with their former music lawyer Anthony Seddon.

Anthony Seddon
Anthony Seddon

Mr Justice Roth’s ruling marks a win for Wilberforce Chambers’ Joanna Smith QC, who was instructed by Clyde & Co legal director Samantha Oliver for the defendants, which included the firm Woolf Seddon, now Seddons.

Edwin Coe partner David Greene instructed 4 Stone Buildings’ John Brisby QC for the five claimants, who were all one time members of the band.

The fraud and negligence claim was launched after the song was featured in the 2000 film The Wedding Singer. The claimants had expected royalties cheques in the post, but when they failed to materialise they issued a High Court claim.

Ex-members of the band launched their claim in 2004 alleging that solicitor Seddon and other partners in Woolf Seddon had “been in serious breach of their duties” by failing to “protect a distinct copyright” held by Musical Youth.

Smith at Wilberforce told the court that the claim was an abuse of process and deserved to be struck out.

Ruling, Roth J stated: “I consider that these proceedings are an attempt to turn a claim for professional negligence into a claim for fraud or dishonest breach of trust in order to overcome the obvious problems of limitation, and I regard the claim as wholly without merit.”

The Grammy-nominated single, which sold more than 100,000 copies in one day, was an adaptation of a song called ’Pass The Kouchie’, which was recorded by reggae group The Mighty Diamonds, a Jamaican harmony trio formed in 1969, the court said.

The claimants conceded that their song was an “arrangement” of ’Pass The Kouchie’, but contended that the song was “a sufficiently original work to attract distinct copyright” and as such they were entitled to a division of publishing royalties.

Rejecting the contention, Roth J stated: “I conclude that this allegation of fraud as particularised has no realistic prospect of success. Were it otherwise, almost every solicitor who is alleged to have been seriously negligent as regards an interpretation of the law would be susceptible on that basis alone to an arguable claim for fraud.

“Nor is it permissible for the claimants to seek to pursue the claim to trial in the hope that some further evidence may turn up on disclosure or on cross-examination of Mr Seddon which might establish that he is lying.

“That is entirely speculative: this is not a case where there are reasonable grounds to suppose that fuller investigation would yield evidence that would significantly alter the position.”