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Fetty Wap’s Drug Sentence, A Major SCOTUS Ruling, Ed Sheeran’s Latest Win & More of the Week’s Biggest Legal Stories

In this week's Legal Beat, Fetty Wap faces sentencing, the Supreme Court rules on Andy Warhol, Ed Sheeran beats another copyright case and more.

This is The Legal Beat, a weekly newsletter about music law from Billboard Pro, offering you a one-stop cheat sheet of big new cases, important rulings and all the fun stuff in between.

This week: Lawyers for Fetty Wap battle with prosecutors ahead of his sentencing over federal drug charges; the Supreme Court issues a major copyright ruling on Andy Warhol’s images of Prince; Ed Sheeran wins another lawsuit over “Let’s Get It On”; and much more.


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THE BIG STORY: Fetty Wap Faces Drug Sentencing

With Fetty Wap facing sentencing this week for his conviction on federal drug charges, the rapper’s lawyers and prosecutors are battling over how much prison time he should receive and in the process, they’ve dipped into one of music’s biggest legal controversies.

Attorneys for the rapper, who pleaded guilty in August to participating in “a multimillion-dollar bicoastal drug distribution organization,” asked a judge last week to sentence him to just five years the minimum under the law. They say he only turned to crime to support family members as his touring income dried up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But prosecutors quickly fired back with a darker story: Of a successful musician who had already earned millions but chose to “supplement his income” by selling “drugs he knew would ruin lives.” And notably, they cited Fetty’s music itself, claiming he should receive a harsher punishment in part because he used his songs to “glamorize the drug trade.”

“Before his arrest, the defendant became famous singing about his experience cooking crack cocaine, selling drugs and making substantial money from those illegal endeavors,” prosecutors wrote. “Young people who admire the defendant and are considering selling drugs need to be sent a message.”

If you’ve been following music law for the past year, you’ll know that’s a controversial move.

After a high-profile gang indictment against Young Thug in Atlanta, the use of rap lyrics in criminal cases has come under increasing scrutiny. Critics say references to drugs and violence are stock elements of hip-hop and should not be treated literally — and that by doing so, prosecutors infringe on free speech and sway courts with unfair evidence, with predictably disproportionate harm inflicted on Black artists.

Lawmakers in California recently enacted a law that sharply restricts the practice, and legislators in New York seem poised to pass a similar bill later this year. A federal bill to limit when lyrics can be used in cases like the one against Fetty Wap was re-introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last month but faces a less clear path to passage than the state-level measures.

To get the full story, including the actual legal documents filed by both sides, go read our full articles on the sentencing recommendations from Fetty Wap and from prosecutors.

Other top stories…

SCOTUS RULES ON WARHOL & FAIR USE – Ruling on a case that record labels and publishers called “critical to the American music industry,” the U.S. Supreme Court said that Andy Warhol did not make “fair use” of a photographer’s copyrights when he used her images of Prince to create one of his distinctive screen prints. The ruling essentially maintained the status quo for music companies, who feared that a decision for Warhol could have disrupted industry practices for sampling, or possibly given legal cover for AI companies to use copyrighted songs.

JIMI HENDRIX DISPUTES HEADS TO UK – A transatlantic legal battle between Jimi Hendrix’s estate and his former bandmates — over control of the rights to music created by the trio’s Jimi Hendrix Experience — is going to be fought primarily in London for now, after a U.S. federal judge ruled that she would defer to the British courts.

ED SHEERAN WINS AGAIN – Less than two weeks after Ed Sheeran won a blockbuster jury trial over whether his “Thinking Out Loud” infringed Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” a federal judge dismissed a second, closely-related copyright case accusing him of copying the same iconic song.

YOUTUBE WON’T FACE CLASS ACTION – A federal judge dealt a major blow to a lawsuit that claims YouTube enables piracy by restricting access to copyright tools like Content ID, refusing to allow the case to proceed as a class action that could have included tens of thousands of rightsholders.

FACIAL-RECOGNITION FIGHT CONTINUES – The owner of Madison Square Garden Entertainment filed a new legal action demanding access to the phone records of a New York state liquor investigator, opening a new front in a sprawling legal war over the use of facial recognition technology to ban lawyers from venues.