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Marley's greatest hits disc Legend is the best-selling reggae album ever

An attempt by the family of singer Bob Marley to obtain the copyrights to some of his best-known recordings has been thwarted by a judge in New York.

Judge Denise Cote ruled Universal Music Group (UMG) owned the copyright to five albums the late star recorded between 1973 and 1977 for Island Records.

Marley's widow and children had sought millions in damages for UMG's alleged attempts to “exploit” his recordings.

Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981 at the age of 36.

The albums in question – Catch a Fire, Burnin', Natty Dread, Rastaman Vibrations and Exodus – were recorded by Marley with his band The Wailers.

They include some of his best-known songs, including I Shot the Sheriff, One Love and No Woman, No Cry.

Marley's family had accused UMG of intentionally withholding royalties from their Fifty-Six Hope Road Music company.

They also claimed UMG had failed to consult with them on key licensing decisions, among them the use of Marley's music on ringtones.

On Friday, however, Judge Cote ruled that Marley's recordings were “works made for hire” as defined under US copyright law.

This, she said, entitled UMG to be designated the owner of those recordings as the parent company of Island Records.

Robert Nesta Marley was born in Jamaica in 1945 and died in the US in 1981.

His greatest hits compilation, Legend, is the biggest-selling reggae album of all time.