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: The litigation over Astroworld gets devolves into a bitter fight over gag orders, Katy Perry wins a major copyright victory over her chart-topping “Dark Horse,” Kesha faces a setback in Dr. Luke’s defamation case, and much more.
THE BIG STORY: The Astroworld Case Has Barely Started And It’s Already Getting Heated
The litigation over Astroworld was probably always going to be brutal. A lawsuit to decide liability over 10 deaths and hundreds of injuries isn’t exactly the same thing as a case over breached contracts or infringed copyrights. But even so, this thing has gotten nasty in a hurry.
For those catching up: Live Nation, Travis Scott and others are facing billions in potential liability over the deadly crowd crush incident during the rapper’s Nov. 5 performance at the Houston festival. The cases, filed by thousands of concertgoers, accuse Astroworld’s organizers of being legally negligent in how they planned and conducted the event.
Earlier this year, the lawsuits were consolidated before a single Texas judge – Judge Kristen Brauchle Hawkins – to coordinate discovery and other pre-trial proceedings. One of her first moves was to issue a so-called publicity order, barring attorneys involved in the lawsuit from talking about the case in ways that could potentially sway jurors. At the time, she said she wanted the case “tried in the courtroom and not on social media.”
In an emergency order filed Wednesday, attorneys for victims suddenly demanded that Scott himself be added to that gag order, accusing him of launching a sophisticated “media blitz” to win favor with potential jurors and deprive them of a fair trial. They specifically cited widespread coverage of his charitable initiative called Project HEAL, arguing that it was essentially a phony effort to clean up his image.
That request sparked an escalating war of words over the rest of the week. On Thursday, Scott’s attorneys called the motion “a transparent and vexatious effort to restrain parties like Mr. Scott from exercising their constitutional rights” — and argued that it was the victims’ lawyers who had breached the gag order. On Friday, attorneys for the victims fired back at what they called “faux-outrage” from Scott’s camp.
“Team Scott has expertly deployed a well-worn diversion strategy: dump a ton of money into new programs, make sure the world knows you are doing it, and then wait for the applause,” attorneys for the victims wrote. “For the families of the dead, as well as the severely injured victims of this preventable tragedy, this is a disappointingly tone-deaf attempt to shift the narrative.”
The litigation over Astroworld is just getting started, but if this week was any indication, it’s going to be a long and bruising fight. We’ll keep you updated.
Other top stories this week…
KATY PERRY’S COPYRIGHT WIN – A federal appeals court ruled that Katy Perry’s 2013 chart-topper “Dark Horse” did not infringe the copyright to an earlier song, clearing her of $2.8 million in potential damages. The ruling preached strong limits to music copyrights, saying accusers cannot seek “an improper monopoly” over simple “musical building blocks” that future songwriters need to reuse. Perry seemed pleased with the outcome: “Just be sure, before you take me to court, ’cause I’m a Scorpio, bitch!” DR. LUKE V. KESHA UPDATE – Dr. Luke won a big decision in his libel lawsuit against Kesha, which claims that the pop star defamed him when she accused him of rape. A New York appeals ruled that the state’s expansive new anti-SLAPP law (a statute that’s expressly designed to restrict such lawsuits) does not apply to his case. If it had, the new law would have required Dr. Luke to prove that Kesha acted with “actual malice” – that she either intentionally lied about him or acted with reckless disregard for the truth. A trial is set for next year. GIMME SOME LITIGATION – Another federal court has rejected copyright accusations that the Spencer Davis Group ripped off its 1966 hit “Gimme Some Lovin” from a song called “Ain’t That a Lot of Love,” written a year earlier by Homer Banks and Willia Dean Parker. The ruling came two years after a similar case was tossed out over the same claims; at the time, a dissenting judge said that Banks and Parker had suffered a “grave injustice.” BILLION-DOLLAR PIRACY SHOWDOWN – The major record labels sparred with Cox Communications in a federal appeals court during oral arguments over a staggering $1 billion copyright verdict issued against Cox over piracy committed by its subscribers. Lawyers for Cox argued the massive fine was “unprecedented in every way” and would force ISPs to cut service; attorneys for the labels argued Cox deserved to be punished because it refused to terminate infringers for fear of losing revenue. TICKETMASTER ANTITRUST PT. 2 – Live Nation asked a federal judge to toss out a class action that claims that Ticketmaster is violating antitrust laws by monopolizing the market for concert tickets, calling it a “nearly word-for-word copy” of an unsuccessful earlier case. That lawsuit, filed by the same legal team, was forced into private arbitration; Live Nation says the new case is no different. “Why, then, are we here — yet again — and not in arbitration?” GOOGLE BEATS GENIUS OVER LYRICS – A federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit accusing Google of copying content from the lyrics website Genius and reposting it in search results. The popular service claimed Google was unfairly exploiting the time and effort it takes to offer carefully-transcribed lyrics, but the court ruled that only the actual copyright holders – meaning songwriters or publishers – could sue over lyrics.
Elsewhere on the legal web…
-The Ed Sheeran copyright trial continues in London. One day, Sheeran sang part of his 2017 mega hit “Shape Of You” in open court; another day, his accuser Sami Chokri said the superstar’s lawyers “belittled” him in an email when he raised concerns about the song. The trial is expected to run for another week or two. (BBC)
-The Recording Academy filed a case at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, seeking to block a Los Angeles company called Indbeverages LLC from registering the word “Grammy’s” as a trademark for liqueurs. (Law360)
-Attorneys for a woman who accused Chris Brown of drugging and raping her have quit the case, after police uncovered text messages that complicate her case, including messages the woman sent to Brown the day after the alleged attack in which she allegedly called him “babe.” (Rolling Stone)