5 Legal Cases That Could Change the Music Industry In 2020

From left: Kesha, Led Zeppelin and Eminem
Getty Images, AP, Shutterstock

From left: Kesha, Led Zeppelin and Eminem

In 2020, a number of court cases could change how you do business. From licensing disputes to jaw-dropping piracy verdicts to one of the first legal challenges to the Music Modernization Act — not to mention a development in the long-brewing legal battle between Kesha and Dr. Luke — here’s what you need to know.


Dr. Luke v. Kesha

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The Lowdown: After five years of litigation, their bitter legal battle is due to unfold in a New York federal courtroom.

What's Unresolved: While Kesha dismissed her sexual abuse claims in 2016, Dr. Luke’s $50 million defamation claims against her are still pending.

The Upshot: Dr. Luke — who continues to write and produce for a few artists — is hoping a victory will repair his reputation.

Next Steps: A trial date is expected to be announced after the court decides on the parties’ remaining summary judgment motions.


Sony et al. v. Cox Communications et al.

The Lowdown: A court ruled that Cox Communications was liable for the piracy infringement of over 10,000 musical works.

What's Unresolved: The decision could affect similar pending cases, such as the ongoing suit 50 labels and publishers have filed against Charter Communications.

The Upshot: The jaw-dropping verdict — Cox has to pay $1 billion to plaintiffs including the three major label groups and EMI — put other cable/internet providers on notice.

Next Steps: Cox said in a statement that it plans to appeal the decision.


Michael Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin

The Lowdown: A trustee for the late guitarist of Spirit alleges Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” infringes on the band’s  1968 song “Taurus.”

What's Unresolved: The ruling will have broad implications over whether pre-1978 copyright cases should be restricted to the sheet music.

The Upshot: The case could create a precedent regarding what constitutes an original song and whether common elements such as chord progression, if used in an unusual way, are protectable.

Next Steps: Attorneys from both sides are awaiting the court’s decision on whether it will restrict copyright protection of pre-1978 works to sheet music that was submitted to the Copyright Office.


Eight Mile Style v. Spotify

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

The Lowdown: Eminem’s publisher is suing Spotify, saying it failed to properly license 250 of his songs.

What's Unresolved: Besides seeking billions in damages, the plaintiff is also arguing that the Music Modernization Act’s pre-2018 infringement exemption is unconstitutional.

The Upshot: It’s one of the first legal challenges to the MMA. The publisher’s attorney argued the act in its creation allows “retroactive taking of property rights” that violates the due process of right protections.

Next Steps: While the case is still entrenched in discovery, some legal experts say the lawsuit could eventually end up before the Supreme Court.


Downtown Music Publishing et al. v. Peloton Interactive

Scott Heins/Getty Images
A Peloton bike.

The Lowdown: Music publishers filed a $300 million suit accusing the fitness brand of using songs without proper licenses.

What's Unresolved: In turn, Peloton accused the National Music Publishers’ Association of violating antitrust law by engaging in price fixing and encouraging publishers not to negotiate with Peloton.

The Upshot: Peloton’s stock price has risen since its initial public offering in October, but the continued use of music in its workout programs will be key to its success.

Next Steps: Peloton has asked the court to hold oral arguments over its antitrust “refusal to deal” claims. The NMPA argues Peloton is trying to turn the licensing issue into a conspiracy case.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 11 issue of Billboard.