Cuba Culture

Buena Vista Social Club court case moves to Havana

Posted May 31, 2005 by publisher in Cuba Culture.

By Sean O’Neill |

The Buena Vista Social Club has sold millions of records and now the songwriters want their share

Sir John Edmund Frederic Lindsay has enjoyed a distinguished, but rarely glamorous, legal career which is nearing its end as a senior judge of the High Court.

There was a brush with fame in the Catherine Zeta-Jones wedding photographs case but, in truth, much of that was concerned with arid legal discussion. It is hardly surprising then that the judge, faced yesterday with the choice of shipping a line-up of elderly Cuban witnesses to London or flying to Havana to hear them in person, chose the Caribbean option. Mr Justice Lindsay, 69, faced the decision in a case concerning the payment of composers’ royalties for the hugely succcessful Buena Vista Social Club album of Cuban music.

The High Court has been adjudicating in a dispute between an American music company and a Cuban state-owned concern over which should receive royalties from sales of the record ó and video and DVD sales ó in Britain. The Buena Vista Social Club became a worldwide hit in 1997 after Ry Cooder, the American guitarist and composer, tracked down veteran musicians in Havana and made a documentary film and album. Peer International Corporation, the US firm, went to court claiming that its copyright to songs dating back to the 1930s has been unlawfully taken over by the Cuban Government.

Editora Musical de Cuba defended itself by saying it was salvaging royalties from songs that had never earned a penny for their impoverished authors.

But the case ground to a halt after six days when videolink technology, by which witnesses were to give evidence from Cuba, proved to be of poor quality or broke down entirely.

The Cuban side suggested that the judge move to Havana to hear the witnesses, an application opposed by the US firm. The judge ruled that the court should move, temporarily, to Cuba in September.

The five composers are dead but have many heirs who could benefit from royalty payments.

Although the case concerns just 14 tracks, it could lead to a battle over EMC’s entire catalogue of 1,260 Cuban songs.


The Buena Vista Social Club was the brainchild of Ry Cooder, the American guitarist and film score composer who has recorded extensively with musicians from around the world. He brought a group of ageing Cuban musicians together to create a bestselling album

Among the musicians, mostly in their eighties and nineties, were Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez, Compay Segundo, Omara Portuondo, Manuel Vazquez, Orlando Vergara, Manuel Licia and Eliades Ochoa

The album sold around five million copies and also won a Grammy for Best Latin Album in 1998. A Carnegie Hall concert sold out in a record 3 hours

Ibrahim Ferrer later released a solo album that sold more than a million copies and he also sold out concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and the Sydney Opera House in 2003

The documentary of the same name, directed by Wim Wenders, capitalised on the success of the album. It grossed $7 million (3.8 million) in the US and $16 million worldwide

The Buena Vista Social Club takes its name from an old members-only club situated in the hills near the capital, Havana

Member Comments

On September 27, 2005, Rafael Venegas wrote:

Same this as in Puerto Rico

Visit our site about how Peer operated in Puerto Rico.

Rafael Venegas