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: Dua Lipa faces multiple copyright accusations over “Levitating,” Cardi B aims to finally end a YouTuber’s “disgusting lies,” Morris Day battles the Prince estate to keep his name, and much more.
THE BIG STORY: Dua Lipa Heads To Court Over ‘Levitating’
One could argue you’re not truly a pop star until you’ve been sued for copyright infringement a few times. It sorta comes with the territory; just ask Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. That means Dua Lipa finally arrived this week, when she was hit with not one but two separate lawsuits claiming she copied her smash hit “Levitating” from earlier songs.
The first case came from a Florida reggae band named Artikal Sound System, which claimed Lipa lifted the core hook for her song from their 2015 “Live Your Life.” The complaint was pretty light on details – it didn’t make any attempt to explain why Lipa would have heard the little-known song – but said the two were so similar that it was “highly unlikely that ‘Levitating’ was created independently.”
The second case was filed a few days later, when songwriters L. Russell Brown and Sandy Linzer accused Lipa of copying both a 1979 song called “Wiggle and Giggle All Night” and a 1980 song called “Don Diablo.” Their accusations centered on the melody that starts just a few seconds into her song, when Lipa begins singing, “If you wanna run away with me…” They called it a “duplicate” of their own songs.
The cases are a big deal, if for no other reason than “Levitating” is a big deal. The song has spent 68 weeks and counting on the Billboard Hot 100, was named the No. 1 Hot 100 song of 2021, and is the longest-running top 10 song ever by a female artist. In that sense, the new lawsuits call to mind the summer of 2013, when Robin Thicke’s then-chart-topping “Blurred Lines” became embroiled in similar controversy.
That won’t be the last comparison to the “Blurred Lines” case you hear. Much like Thicke’s song sounded a lot like Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” to many ordinary listeners, Lipa’s song really does sound like portions of the earlier tracks, particularly “Live Your Life.” Just ask Twitter, which was suddenly awash this week with amateur copyright attorneys and armchair musicologists.
But the real battle line in the cases might be less about similar sounds and more about the limits of protectability – about whether the stuff she allegedly borrowed from the earlier songs is even covered by copyright law at all. Did Lipa copy unique and protectible expression? Or just use common musical tropes? We’ll soon find out.
On a practical level, it’s at least a little surprising that the cases didn’t settle before they got to court – like when Olivia Rodrigo paid Paramore, or when Sam Smith paid Tom Petty. Arguments about the limits of copyright protection are important to have and could very well convince a judge to toss the cases out, but with how similar these songs sound to an untrained ear, you can bet the attorneys for Lipa won’t be super eager to roll the dice with a jury of her peers. Again, just ask Robin Thicke.
But we’re a long ways from a trial right now. Up next: An answer from Lipa in a few weeks, and then motions seeking to dismiss the cases at the outset. Stay tuned.
Other top stories this week…
“HARMFUL AND DISGUSTING LIES” – Cardi B asked a federal judge to issue a permanent injunction that would require YouTuber Tasha K to remove and never repost shocking false claims about the superstar rapper, including that she had contracted herpes. A jury already awarded Cardi B nearly $4 million in damages after a trial earlier this year, but her attorneys argued that money alone was “inadequate” because Tasha has vowed that she won’t stop unless forced to do so by a judge.
EVEN MORE COPYRIGHT LITIGATION – Sam Smith and Normani were hit with a copyright lawsuit over their 2019 hit “Dancing With a Stranger,” filed by three songwriters who said it was “strikingly similar” to their earlier track with the same name. The accusers said that both songs featured the refrain “dancing with a stranger” sung over “nearly identical melody and musical composition.” Notably, the case was filed by the same law firm that unsuccessfully sued Led Zeppelin over “Stairway To Heaven.”
MARILYN MANSON SUES OVER #METOO DOWNFALL – Two weeks before HBO was set to release a documentary about Evan Rachel Wood’s allegations of abuse against ex-fiancee Marilyn Manson, the rocker filed a defamation lawsuit accusing Wood of orchestrating an “organized attack” to ruin his career. The lawsuit framed the numerous allegations made by other women against Manson – at least four different woman have filed lawsuits against him – as the product of a “conspiracy” by Wood and another woman.
KIM KARDASHIAN IS LEGALLY SINGLE – A little over a year after filing for divorce from Kanye West, a Los Angeles judge declared Kim Kardashian single. At a closely-watched hearing, the judge agreed to expedite the end of the marriage, while punting more complex questions about assets and custody to future proceedings.
SETTLEMENT OVER GLEE STAR’S DEATH – The family of late Glee star Naya Rivera reached a settlement with Ventura County, Calif. to end a wrongful death lawsuit over her July 2020 drowning. The case claimed the county, which operated the lake where Rivera died, could have prevented her death if it had complied with proper safety protocols. Monetary terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
PANDORA’S BOX … OF LAWSUITS – Pandora was hit with yet another lawsuit claiming the streaming service failed to pay proper royalties for comedy, this time from comic Nick Di Paolo. Five more such cases were already filed last month, including by the estates of George Carlin and Robin Williams. The litigation follows years of uncertainty over what royalties streamers need to pay for spoken-word content – a situation that prompted Spotify to pull many comics last year.
“TAKING MY NAME AWAY FROM ME” – Longtime Prince collaborator Morris Day sparked controversy when he posted to Facebook that the music legend’s estate had told him he could no longer use his band name “The Time.” It turns out, the Prince estate’s attorneys sent Day a letter in December telling him he couldn’t use it “in any form,” citing a 1982 agreement in which Prince’s company retained the trademark rights to the band’s name. But good news for Day: It looks like the estate’s soon-to-be owners will let him keep his name when they take control later this year.
Elsewhere on the legal web…
-Drake sought a court order to protect him and his family from a woman who was arrested in 2017 for breaking into his home. His attorneys say the woman has been harassing him for years, but recently escalated to threats, like an email telling him to “put a bullet through your head now bitch.” (TMZ)
-Ed Sheeran took the witness stand in an ongoing UK copyright trial over whether his 2017 hit “Shape Of You” infringed an earlier song. The pop star denied the allegations, telling the court that he would not have been able to achieve his massive success “if I was in the habit of plagiarizing other writers.” (Reuters)
-Dizzy Rascal was found guilty by a UK court of assaulting his former partner, Cassandra Jones, in a 2021 incident. The British rapper allegedly “barged” his way into her home before pushing her around the room and eventually to the floor. (Variety)
-Post Malone asked a federal judge to dismiss a copyright lawsuit filed by a Canadian musician who wants to be declared a co-author of the hit “Circles.” The star’s attorneys said his accuser was only “present for one early session” and had merely contributed an “extremely commonplace guitar chord progression” to the song. (Rolling Stone)