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The Legal Beat: Dr. Luke Spars With Senator In Kesha Case

Also this week: a new song-theft lawsuit against Justin Bieber and Dan + Shay, a dramatic airport arrest for A$AP Rocky and much 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: A strange new chapter in the defamation battle between Dr. Luke and Kesha involving a state senator and issues of constitutional law, a new lawsuit against Justin Bieber and Dan + Shay that claims they stole “10,000 Hours” from a decades-old, little-known song, a dramatic airport arrest for A$AP Rocky after a vacation with Rihanna, and much more.


THE BIG STORY: Dr. Luke Spars With a New York Senator… Because Why Not?

After nearly eight years of litigation, the defamation battle between Dr. Luke and Kesha entered unexpected territory last week. I don’t know about you, but my 2022 music law bingo card certainly didn’t include “Dr. Luke trades jabs with a sitting state senator over the separation of powers.”Let’s rewind: The producer has been suing Kesha since 2014, claiming she defamed him when she accused him of drugging and raping her after a 2005 party. Kesha says her statement was truthful and that Dr. Luke is trying to silence her, but recent rulings haven’t gone her way. One of those decisions came down in February , when a New York appeals court ruled that the state’s newly enacted “anti-SLAPP” law didn’t apply retroactively to Dr. Luke’s case.That was a big setback for Kesha, because the anti-SLAPP statute (short for “strategic lawsuits against public participation”) is expressly designed to make cases like Dr. Luke’s harder to win. It would have required him to prove she essentially lied on purpose, and to repay her legal bills if she eventually defeats the case – no small thing after nearly a decade of billable hours at white shoe law firms.Here’s where things get unusual: Last week, Sen. Brad Hoylman, the state senator who sponsored and co-authored New York’s anti-SLAPP law, filed a proposed brief urging the court to reconsider its ruling. He said that he and other lawmakers intended for the statute to apply retroactively to pending cases when the law was enacted in 2020.That quickly drew a harsh rebuke from Dr. Luke’s lawyers. They called Hoylman’s views “entirely irrelevant,” and even suggested that his meddling in the case might cross a constitutional line: “Efforts by a sitting legislator to influence the judicial interpretation of a statute, after it has been enacted, are highly problematic in that they threaten to undermine fundamental separation of powers principles.” Hoylman’s office immediately fired back, calling those arguments “simply ridiculous.”Whether or not it’s quite as serious a problem as Dr. Luke’s attorneys would have you believe, a single lawmaker intervening in a private case to argue about legislation he authored is at the very least pretty unusual. The court will likely rule on the issue in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned…

Other top stories this week…

HERE WE GO AGAIN – Justin Bieber and Dan + Shay were hit with a new copyright lawsuit that claims they copied large parts of their Grammy-winning country hit “10,000 Hours” from a decades-old, little-known song called “The First Time Baby Is a Holiday.” The accusers claimed the newer song lifted “core portions” of the earlier track and cited a report from a musicologist about the similarities between the songs, but made comparatively little effort to explain why Bieber and Dan + Shay would have heard a song that had just 8,000 plays on Spotify. The suit is the latest in a rash of such song-theft copyright lawsuits, following similar cases against Dua Lipa and Sam Smith.ASTROWORLD TASK FORCE – A new report issued by a Texas task force on concert safety, convened in the wake of the tragedy at Astroworld, says the deadly festival suffered from permitting issues and insufficient training for security. The report highlighted a confusing patchwork of state and local permitting regulations and concluded that establishing standardized safety procedures could help prevent a similar tragedy; that finding immediately led to finger pointing between local stakeholders.A$AP ROCKY ARRESTED AT AIRPORT – The rapper was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport in connection with a November shooting in Hollywood. He was taken into custody, on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, as he was in the process of returning home on a private plane after a vacation in Barbados with girlfriend Rihanna. He has since posted bail and been released; a court date is set for August.POST MALONE TRIAL BEFORE A JUDGE OR JURY? – With a trial date set for next month over accusations that Post Malone failed to credit one of the co-writers of “Circles,” attorneys for both sides argued over whether the case should be decided by a judge or jury. Malone said there’s “no basis” to put the case before 12 of his peers, but attorneys for accuser Tyler Armes said the star is trying “deprive plaintiff of his Constitutional right to a jury trial.”

Elsewhere on the web…

-The rapper Pooh Shiesty was sentenced to five years and three months in prison after he reached a plea agreement last month on gun conspiracy charges linked to a confrontation outside a Florida hotel in October 2020 that ended with a man shot in the buttocks. (Rolling Stone)-The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case that claimed Josh Groban’s 2003 hit “You Raise Me Up” infringed the copyright to a little-known 1977 song. Back in November, a lower court ruled that both songs were actually derived from the century-old folk song “Danny Boy.” (Bloomberg Law)-A Brooklyn art collective called MSCHF fired back at a trademark lawsuit from Vans over Tyga’s “Wavy Baby” sneakers, arguing that the project is a parody on “sneakerhead” culture and is protected by free speech. (Law360)