According to the lawsuit -- which was filed Sept. 17 -- the two tracks have the same time signature and similar tempos. The “Vibeking” writing duo also claims that even though the songs have different key signatures, they have otherwise identical hook melodies based on their scale degrees. (This is heard as The Weeknd sings “so, call out my name” and other lyrical variations of such hook.) The rhythm of these hooks are also identical, the lawsuit claims, and are played or sung over top the minor first and minor fourth chords of their respective key signatures. (It should be noted that popular music commonly uses the first, fourth and fifth chords in a scale.)
“Vibeking” was first created in April 2015 and was published “in or around April or May 2017,” according to the complaint. The duo alleges that sometime around April 2015, they sent “Vibeking” to PNDA, one of Tesfaye’s engineers, for him to show Tesfaye. Sending tracks to The Weeknd’s camp was not uncommon for Fox and Strange at the time, in fact, the complaint notes that “Vibeking” was only one of several original compositions and recordings the duo sent in for consideration.
By April 29, 2015, PNDA told one of the “Vibeking” writers that Tesfaye had replied “shits fiiiire” to emails containing the track. Again, on May 15, 2015, PNDA told one of the writers that The Weeknd did listen to “Vibeking” and commented “it’s fire,” reconfirming his note from a few weeks before.
Next, PNDA wrote to Strange, saying “Just gonna tell [The Weeknd] that our production team wrote the track. Cool? Or u have another idea? Just don’t wanna say ‘hey, [Strange] wrote this’ when he doesn’t know u.” To this, Strange replied, “[The Weeknd] knows me. Say both. [Strange] with Ponytail you met on Drake tour. Who is part of our production team.”
After this correspondence, the “Vibeking” writers never received any license or agreement from The Weeknd’s team to authorize use of the song, but by March 30, 2018, The Weeknd’s EP My Dear Melancholy, featuring “Call Out My Name” as its first track, was released, listing just Tesfaye, Frank Dukes and Nicolas Jaar as its writers.
The song has gone on to amass at least $1.06 million in publishing royalties in the U.S. alone from streaming, sales and airplay, Billboard estimates based on data from MRC Data. This estimate excludes any potential publishing royalties made from synchronization and general licenses.
This is not the first time Tesfaye has been accused of copyright infringement. In 2015, the superstar was slapped with a lawsuit for his Hot 100 chart-topper "The Hills" after the track's producer direct messaged The Machine film scorer Tom Raybould, saying “I sampled your music might make it 2 the weeknd next album. Huge fan of what u did 4 the machine movie!” The sample was never cleared, and “The Hills” writers were sued for substantial similarity in both the song and recording copyrights.
In 2018, Tesfaye was accused of plagiarizing the 2007 experimental rock track “Sunrise” by Yeasayer for The Weeknd's "Pray for Me," a collaboration with Kendrick Lamar for the film Black Panther. This case was voluntarily dismissed by Yeasayer after the band “confirmed to their satisfaction that no copyright infringement occurred.” Another accusation followed the year after when Brian Clover and Scott McCulloch filed a lawsuit, saying The Weeknd copied their 2005 song “I Need to Love” on his Starboy album cut "A Lonely Night." This was dismissed in 2020 after the presiding judge was unpersuaded by the “I Need to Love” songwriters. Earlier this year, Clover and McCulloch appealed to the Ninth Circuit court.
According to Chris Ghazarian, a lawyer representing the "Vibeking" writing duo with Stephen Doniger and Benjamin Tookey, “The Weeknd is no stranger to accusations of infringement, and this one is probably the most egregious case to date,” he says.
“Epikker (Suniel and Henry) works with many artists in the industry, and was profoundly disappointed when The Weeknd and his team copied “Vibeking,” an original Epikker song that was shared with them years ago in good faith. I look forward to working with Doniger Burroughs to secure reasonable compensation and credit for Epikker in connection with “Call Out My Name.”
Representatives for The Weeknd did not respond to requests for comment.
Additional reporting by Ed Christman.