Earth Wind & Fire Ruling, Kanye Copyright Case, NBA YoungBoy House Arrest & More Legal News

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: Earth, Wind & Fire wins its trademark lawsuit against a tribute band that used the group’s name without permission; Kanye West faces a copyright lawsuit from Donna Summer’s estate that claims he “shamelessly” copied her song; federal prosecutors accuse YoungBoy Never Broke Again of using drugs while under house arrest; and much more.

THE BIG STORY: Will The Real Earth Wind & Fire Please Stand Up?

After just a year of litigation, Earth, Wind & Fire prevailed in its trademark lawsuit against a tribute act that called itself “Earth, Wind & Fire Legacy Reunion” – a use of the legendary R&B group’s name that a federal judge called “deceptive and misleading.”

Tribute acts — groups that exclusively cover the music of a particular band — are legally allowed to operate, and they often adopt names that allude to the original. But they must make clear that they are only a tribute band, and they can get into legal hot water if they make it appear that they are affiliated with or endorsed by the original.

The case against Legacy Reunion took that basic framework and added tricky questions. The tribute band really did feature musicians who had once performed with Earth, Wind & Fire, and they argued that they were legally allowed to tell that to fans. But Earth, Wind & Fire argued that those performers were just a few “side musicians” who had briefly played with the band, and that they had purposefully aimed to mislead consumers into thinking the primary players were also involved.

In a decision issued Monday, Judge Federico A. Moreno sided decisively with Earth, Wind & Fire, saying the evidence tipped “overwhelmingly” in the band’s favor. Go read why here.

Other top stories this week…

KANYE SUED OVER VULTURES 1 – The other shoe dropped. Two weeks after the estate of Donna Summer publicly accused Kanye West of illegally interpolating her 1977 hit “I Feel Love” in his “Good (Don’t Die),” the singer’s heirs filed a copyright lawsuit against the embattled rapper, accusing Ye of “arrogantly and unilaterally” using the song after he was explicitly refused a license. The track has already been pulled from streamers, but the estate said the lawsuit was about more than just that: “It is also about the rights of artists to decide how their works are used and presented to the public.”

HOUSE ARREST DRAMA – Federal prosecutors accused YoungBoy Never Broke Again (a.k.a. NBA YoungBoy) of violating the terms of his house arrest – a confinement that has now lasted more than two years while he awaits a trial on gun charges — by allegedly using unspecified drugs. More strangely, prosecutors specifically claimed that YoungBoy also told his supervising officers that he has “no intentions” of stopping doing so.

JAM MASTER JAY MURDER VERDICT – Following a three-week trial in Brooklyn, a federal jury found two New York City men guilty in the 2002 murder of Run-DMC‘s Jam Master Jay, finally resolving one of hip-hop’s long unsolved killings. After the convictions, Karl Jordan, Jr., 40, and Ronald Washington, 59, each face a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.

I DON’T (MAL)PRACTICE SANTERIA … King Holmes Paterno & Soriano fired back at a legal malpractice lawsuit filed earlier this year against the top music law firm by the band Sublime, arguing that its former clients had chosen “falsely and maliciously” to accuse the firm of wrongdoing in an “obvious and pathetic” attempt to avoid an unpaid legal bill totaling more than $100,000.

DIDDY ACCUSER CAN’T STAY ANONYMOUS – A federal judge ruled that an unnamed woman suing Sean “Diddy” Combs over allegations that he sex trafficked and “gang raped” her must reveal her identity as the case moves forward. Her lawyers argued that unmasking her would expose her to potential harm, but the judge ruled that allowing cases to proceed under a pseudonym in the U.S. court system was “the exception and not the rule.”

JEEN-YUHS’ LIBEL CASE DISMISSED – Dismissing an unusual defamation lawsuit, a federal judge ruled that a woman who once appeared “obviously intoxicated” in a Kanye West music video could not sue Netflix after the footage was used in the Kanye-focused documentary jeen-yuhs — even if she later got sober and “turned her life around.”

SONY SETTLES TERMINATION CASE – Sony Music reached a settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed by New York Dolls singer David Johansen and other artists in an effort to regain control of their masters. Combined with settlements last year in a similar lawsuit against Universal Music Group, the agreement will mark the final conclusion of closely-watched class-action litigation that claimed the two music giants were refusing to honor copyright law’s termination right when it came to recording artists.

APPLE’S HUGE EU FINE – The European Union fined Apple nearly $2 billion, claiming the tech giant broke the bloc’s competition laws by unfairly favoring its own music streaming service over rivals like Spotify. Apple’s alleged actions – specifically, restricting how other music services tell their users about alternative pricing outside of an iOS app itself – led consumers to pay “significantly higher prices for music streaming subscriptions,” EU regulators said. Apple vowed to appeal the ruling, which was sparked by a complaint by Spotify.

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