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 judge clears French Montana of copyright infringement but sympathizes with his accuser; T.I. and his wife face the latest sexual assault accusations to rock the music industry; Cher battles with her son over a potential conservatorship; and much more.
THE BIG STORY: French Montana’s “Technical” Copyright Victory
Imitation might be the “sincerest form of flattery,” but it isn’t always copyright infringement. That was the key takeaway from an unusual federal court ruling last week, in which a judge dismissed a copyright lawsuit against French Montana – but almost seemed to regret that she had to do so?
The case against French (Karim Kharbouch) was filed by a little-known Chicago artist named Hotwire The Producer (Eddie Lee Richardson), who claimed the star rapper’s 2013 hit “Ain’t Worried About Nothin’” featured an unlicensed sample of his earlier song “Hood Pushin’ Weight.”
In a decision Thursday, Judge Nancy L. Maldonado ruled that French’s song did not technically infringe the rights that Richardson had secured – he registered only the copyright to a sound recording, not the underlying musical composition. But she also expressed “great sympathy” for Richardson, lamenting that he had failed to fully register his copyrights and saying that the outcome of the case “might have been very different” if he had.
“If it is any consolation, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the Court hopes that Richardson will not be deterred in his musical endeavors, now armed with a better understanding of copyright law,” Judge Maldonado wrote. “As it is, though, Richardson’s evidence in this particular case is insufficient to establish copyright infringement.”
For more on what the judge had to say in her opinion — including advising French not to celebrate too much over a “technical win” – go read our full story.
Other top stories this week…
T.I. SEX ASSAULT CASE – The rapper and his wife Tiny were hit with a civil lawsuit claiming they drugged and sexually assaulted a woman they met in a Los Angeles nightclub in 2005. In the complaint, lawyers for the unnamed Jane Doe accuser said that T.I. (Clifford Harris) and Tiny (Tameka Harris) gave her a spiked drink after she was introduced to them in the VIP section of a club, then brought her back to their hotel room where they “forced her to get naked” and assaulted her. In a statement to Billboard, the couple “emphatically and categorically” denied the allegations and vowed to fight back against a lawsuit that they said the plaintiff had been threatening to file for years.
JIMMIE ALLEN ATTORNEY SHAKEUP – More than six months after Jimmie Allen was hit with a pair of sexual assaults, news broke that the country star was parting ways with the legal team that’s been representing him (from the Tennessee law firm Baker Donelson) in the cases. The move to swap lawyers quickly prompted objections from his accusers, who say he’s obstructing the progress of the litigation by “moving through attorneys.”
CHER FIGHTS SON OVER CONSERVATORSHIP – A Los Angeles judge declined to immediately put Cher’s son (Elijah Blue Allman) into a legal conservatorship – an arrangement she is seeking over his opposition — but said he would take up the issue again later this month. Cher petitioned for the conservatorship late last year, arguing that Elijah’s struggles with addiction and mental health have left him unable to manage his money and potentially put his life in danger by making him able to buy drugs.
TUPAC MURDER BAIL BATTLE – A hearing is set for Tuesday over whether Duane “Keffe D” Davis, the former Los Angeles-area gang leader charged with orchestrating the killing of hip-hop music legend Tupac Shakur, should be released on bail. The proceedings had initially been scheduled for last week, but were delayed after prosecutors raised new arguments for why Davis poses a threat to the public if he is released.
MAREN MORRIS DIVORCE SETTLED – Maren Morris reached a settlement to resolve her divorce proceedings against singer/songwriter Ryan Hurd, her husband of five years. Under the terms of the deal, Morris, 33, will pay Hurd, 37, $2,100 per month in child support as the two evenly split time with their three-and-a-half-year-old son, Hayes Andrew. Most of the rest of the settlement was stipulated in a prenuptial agreement, which the couple signed in 2018 and updated in 2022.
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