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: Megan Thee Stallion’s court case against her record label somehow gets even messier, Taylor Swift is hit with a questionable copyright lawsuit over Lover, Post Malone promises to appear at a federal trial over “Circles,” and much more.
THE BIG STORY: Megan Thee Stallion’s Label Battle, As Explained By The Lawyers
Megan Thee Stallion’s nasty dispute with her record label has entered a new phase, and the lawyers for both sides have plenty to say about it.
In interviews with Billboard last week, attorneys for both Megan and 1501 Certified Entertainment vowed to aggressively litigate the case to a conclusion, ominously alluding to future investigations into the other side’s alleged misconduct. Alex Spiro, repping Megan, likened her record deal to “indentured servitude”; Steven Zager, repping 1501, said he cannot wait to get the rapper “under oath.”
To rewind: Megan has been has been fighting with 1501 for more than two years now, claiming the label duped her into signing an “unconscionable” record deal. The latest skirmish started in February, when she accused 1501 of unfairly refusing to label her 2021 release of Something for Thee Hotties as an “album” – a key distinction, since she must produce three albums under her record deal.
And in a new, amended version of that lawsuit filed earlier this month, Megan tacked on a demand for $1 million in damages, claiming 1501 had “systematically failed” to pay enough royalties. Perhaps more notably, she also implicitly accused the label of leaking her album Traumazine.
Speaking about the case ahead, Spiro says he and the rest of Megan’s lawyers are “moving to end this once and for all and give her her freedom back.” Zager, on the other hand, says the dispute will change when the star is on the witness stand: “We’ll see how much of what she’s been saying to you folks in the press still stands up to scrutiny.”
Go read everything Spiro and Zager had to say on the case over at Billboard, and we’ll keep you updated as it moves forward.
Other top stories this week…
MORE LEGAL TROUBLE AT TRILLER – Sony Music Entertainment filed a strongly-worded lawsuit against Triller , accusing the social media platform of failing to pay licensing fees for many months and then continuing to use the label’s catalog even after the deal was finally terminated. The case, accusing Triller of both breach of contract and copyright infringement, said Sony’s efforts to collect payments were met with “near-total radio silence” from March onward, showing a “brazen contempt” for the label’s intellectual property rights. The lawsuit came two weeks after Triller was sued for allegedly failing to pay $28 million owed to Timbaland and Swizz Beatz from their sale of Verzuz to the company, and a month after a Washington Post investigation alleged that Triller had spotty history of paying Black influencers that had been recruited to join the platform.
TAYLOR FACING QUESTIONABLE COPYRIGHT CASE – Taylor Swift was hit with a new copyright lawsuit claiming she ripped off the book that accompanied her album Lover from a self-published book of poems under the same name. Author Teresa La Dart claimed that Swift copied “a number of creative elements,” including the “pastel pinks and blues” of the cover and the overall format of the book. But legal experts told Billboard those allegations likely won’t hold up in court: “This lawsuit should be thrown out on a motion to dismiss, if the plaintiff’s lawyer doesn’t think better of it and voluntarily withdraw the complaint first,” said Aaron Moss, a veteran copyright litigator at the firm Greenberg Glusker.
ATLANTA DA DEFENDS USE OF RAP LYRICS – A week after California passed legislation that would limit when prosecutors can cite rap lyrics in criminal cases, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis offered no apologies for doing so in cases like the one she filed against Young Thug and Gunna earlier this year. “If you decide to admit your crimes over a beat, I’m gonna use it,” Willis said. “I have some legal advice: don’t confess to crimes on rap lyrics if you do not want them used, or at least get out of my county.” Despite criticism of the practice, Willis said she would “continue to do that, people can continue to be angry about it.”
POST MALONE WILL BE AT “CIRCLES” TRIAL – A Los Angeles federal judge set a December 13 trial date for Post Malone in a lawsuit that claims he failed to credit a co-writer of his smash-hit “Circles,” after the star’s attorneys promised he would be there to take the witness stand. His accuser had previously agreed to push back the trial from October because of Malone’s tour commitments, but only if the superstar would be there himself. The judge approved the switch last week after Malone’s lawyers answered unequivocally: “He fully intends to appear to refute plaintiff’s claims.”
“HELP US MAKE THIS HAPPEN” – Days after California’s state legislature passed a first-in-the-nation law to largely ban prosecutors from citing rap lyrics during criminal cases, the bill’s chief sponsor (Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer) sat down to chat with Billboard about the legislative victory – about what the new statute would do, how it could be a template for the rest of the country, and why the music industry needs to “be alert to come to help us make this happen.” The new law would apply only in California, not to cases in other states like the one Willis filed in Georgia against Young Thug and Gunna.
ANOTHER COMIC SUES PANDORA – Comedian George Lopez filed a copyright lawsuit against Pandora over its alleged failure to pay proper royalties on spoken-word compositions, becoming the latest to join a large group of high-profile comics (Lewis Black, Bill Engvall and others, plus the estates of Robin Williams and George Carlin) who have sued the streamer. All filed by prominent music litigator Richard Busch of King & Ballow, the cases argue that Pandora must start paying the equivalent of publishing royalties for comedy, in addition to the recording royalties it already forks over.
“FEARED FOR OUR LIVES” – R. Kelly’s second criminal trial (this time on child pornography and obstruction of justice charges) continued in Chicago federal court last week, featuring gripping testimony from the mother of a woman who allegedly appeared in the singer’s infamous video tape at the age of 14. The mom, who used the pseudonym “Susan,” told jurors that she had lied to a state grand jury 20 years earlier because the singer had made statements she perceived as threats: “We were very, very frightened,” Susan told jurors, adding that “we feared for our lives and we were intimidated.” The trial for Kelly – already convicted last year on separate sex trafficking charges – is expected to run for at least two more weeks.