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The Legal Beat: Rick Astley Sues Over Soundalike Singer – Plus Miley Cyrus, UMG Class Action & More

Also this week: Marilyn Manson faces a new abuse case, T.I.'s toy battle ends in a bizarre mistrial, Bad Bunny reaches a copyright settlement 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: Rick Astley makes waves by suing an artist who impersonated his voice; an explanation of why Miley Cyrus doesn’t owe Bruno Mars a writing credit on her super-smash “Flowers”; UMG wins a big ruling in a proposed class action over termination rights; and much more.


THE BIG STORY: Will Rick Astley Dampen Pop’s Nostalgia Kick?

Popular culture is always cyclical, but we’re living though a particularly nostalgic age of pop music. Just look at the Hot 100 over the past year: Jack Harlow pulled from Fergie, David Guetta riffed on Eiffel 65, Latto made a song that sounded like Mariah Carey, and Beyonce heavily sampled from Robin S. But a new lawsuit could cast something of a pall on the throwback mania.

Rick Astley is suing Yung Gravy over the rapper’s breakout 2022 single “Betty (Get Money),” which borrowed from the singer’s iconic (and frequently-memed) “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The lawsuit claims the new track — an interpolation that sounded a whole lot like an outright sample — broke the law by impersonating Astley’s voice.

Filed by the same attorney (Richard Busch) who brought the blockbuster case over “Blurred Lines,” the new lawsuit has the potential to similarly scare producers about their current studio practices. As Billboard’s Kristin Robinson writes this week, re-recording classic tracks (rather than directly sampling them) has become more common for financial and creative reasons, but Astley’s accusations have some music executives questioning if it could “open the floodgates” to litigation when vocals are involved.

For a full breakdown of the Astley lawsuit, including access to all the actual court documents, go read our story here.

Other top stories this week…

MILEY DOESN’T OWE BRUNO ANYTHINGMiley Cyrus’ chart-topping new single, “Flowers,” includes clear references to Bruno Mars‘ own No. 1 hit from a decade earlier, “When I Was Your Man.” But as a copyright expert explained to me and Billboard‘s Andrew Unterberger this week, Miley doesn’t need to offer Bruno a credit for an “answer song” that merely riffs on a few lyrics but doesn’t borrow any musical elements.

ON TERMINATIONS, CLASS DISMISSED – A Manhattan federal judge ruled that hundreds of artists cannot join forces to sue Universal Music Group to regain control of their masters, saying the case raised big questions about “fairness” but that it was ill-suited for class-action litigation — a major blow to a closely-watched case over termination rights.

MANSON FACES NEW ABUSE CASEMarilyn Manson reached a settlement with actress Esme Bianco to end one of the several sexual abuse lawsuits that he’s faced in recent years. But just days later, he was hit with a lawsuit from a new accuser who claims he groomed and sexually assaulted her during the early portion of his career when she was underage. Manson strongly denies the new allegations.

YE SAGA CONTINUES FOR GREENBERG – The Kanye West ordeal isn’t quite over for Greenberg Traurig, the prestigious law firm that’s so frustrated with their ex-client that it asked a judge to allow it to print newspaper ads announcing they’ve dropped him.

MISTRIAL IN T.I.’s TOY CASE – A high-profile intellectual property battle pitting T.I. and wife Tameka “Tiny” Harris against toymaker MGA over a line of dolls ended in a sudden mistrial after jurors heard “inflammatory” — and clearly inadmissible — video-taped testimony claiming the toy company “steals from African Americans.”

CARDI ACCUSER WANTS NEW TRIAL – Months after a jury rejected bizarre allegations that Cardi B “humiliated” a man by photoshopping his back tattoo onto the risqué cover of a 2016 mixtape, the guy wants a do-over. Kevin Brophy formally requested a new trial, arguing that the star “engaged in theatrics” on the witness stand and deprived him of a fair trial.

LIVE NATION WINS CASE OVER SHOOTING – A California appeals ruled that Live Nation is not legally responsible for a deadly 2014 shooting backstage at a Young Jeezy concert. The court said such an attack was not the kind of event that the concert giant should have seen coming — an important decision as Live Nation is facing similar claims over the backstage killing of Drakeo The Ruler in 2021.

BAD BUNNY COPYRIGHT SETTLEMENTBad Bunny reached a tentative agreement to end a lawsuit that accused the Puerto Rican superstar of lifting material for his 2020 track “Safaera” from three earlier songs by reggaeton pioneer DJ Playero.

R. KELLY STATE CHARGES DROPPED – Prosecutors in Illinois dropped all state-level sexual abuse charges against R. Kelly, citing “limited resources” and the fact that the disgraced singer has already been sentenced to 30 years in prison on federal convictions — and could soon be facing decades more in another federal case.