It’s Burkes Law! Hooligans In Court; Wailers Lose

Now here’s an interesting story about the classic ska hit by Bob Marley & The Wailers “Hooligans” that’s been covered many many times including a scorching version by Hepcat. It seems that the original writer, a Shirley Burke, wrote the song and took it to Studio One for the Wailers who promptly recorded it.

The rest is history and it’s an interesting to hear about someone actually winning back rights for a song from the 60’s. Although, as it states in the story, it’s really only for the last 6 years that any royalties can be collected but a win is a win.

Here’s a little bit from the story:
A landmark ruling yesterday transferred the lyrical copyright of the song Hooligans from Bob Marley and Studio One to Shirley Maynier Burke – the mother of politician Paul Burke, who took on two of the biggest names in Reggae and won.

“It sets a precedence for a lot of writers whose songs were simply taken away from them,” Burke told Splash about the Ska song, written in the ’60s, sung by Marley and recorded by JamRec, a company affiliated with Studio One.

Memorable lines in the song include:
“Don’t bray like a donkey if you really man.”
Marley sings:

Hooligans, hooligans make up your minds
hooligans, hooligans this is the time
hooligans, hooligans make up your minds
ohh mother been weeping
ohh father been preaching

Shirley Burke Declared Author and Copyright Owner of “Hooligans” Lyrics

Over a decade ago award-winning journalist of national repute Shirley Maynier Burke began her quest to obtain the credit owed to her as sole writer of the lyrics for the 1960s song entitled “Hooligans” (also known as “Hooligan”), which was performed and recorded by Bob Marley and the Wailers at Studio One in Jamaica.

Inspired to help change the so-called ‘rude boy’ phenomenon which had erupted amid Jamaica’s vibrant music and performing arts industry, Burke wrote the lyrics in 1965 and asked the Wailers to perform and record it as a song. The song of the same title was recorded and released by Jamaica Recording Studio (JAMREC) on the Studio One label in the same year.

Although Burke permitted the recording and release of the song as a piece of social commentary, on discovering some 25 years after its initial release that the song was still receiving airplay without her having received any royalties, she began to make enquiries into how she could claim back what was owed to her.

Burke was credited as the writer on the original phonodisc released in 1965, but she discovered that subsequent releases of the song were credited to the Wailers, Bob Marley or Clement Dodd, the late owner of Studio One and well-known Jamaican record producer. Other songs with the same title emerged, which were credited to different writers. Research later revealed that some of the songs were in fact different from the song for which Burke wrote the lyrics. However, claims over the ‘real “Hooligans” song’, which conflicted with Burke’s claims for authorship and ownership of the lyrics, remain unresolved.

In December 2007 Burke brought a claim for a declaration of authorship and ownership of copyright before the Supreme Court. The Bob Marley Foundation and JAMREC were interested parties in the claim. The foundation did not contest the claim, but JAMREC raised objections. On December 11 2008 the court declared Burke to be the author and copyright owner of the lyrics of the song entitled “Hooligans” (also known as “Hooligan”). However, her ownership does not extend to the ska and dub versions of the song, which contain no lyrics.

By virtue of the ruling, Burke will now receive backdated royalties from 2002. She also now has the chance to receive future royalties for up to 50 years after her death, provided that the song continues to receive airplay.

I've been involved in the Los Angeles music scene since at least 1995 going to shows, promoting, spinning records and running labels. Ska and Early Reggae are my passion among other things of course.