A US federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit alleging British pop star Dua Lipa’s 2020 megahit Levitating ripped off an earlier song by reggae outfit Artikal Sound System, concluding that the plaintiffs failed to prove their case.
Levitating holds the record for longest-charting song by a female artist on the Billboard 100, having spent 77 weeks on the chart in 2020 and 2021.
In a lawsuit filed in 2022, members of Artikal Sound System alleged that Levitating was “substantially similar” to their 2017 track Live Your Life. As defendants, they named Lipa, along with Warner Records and Levitating co-writers Clarence Coffee Jr., Sarah Hudson and Stephen Kozmeniuk.
In her ruling, as reported by Reuters, Judge Sunshine S. Sykes of the US District Court for the Central District of California noted that, without direct evidence that a song was illegally copied, a plaintiff can still prove the alleged copyright infringers had “access” to a song either by showing the earlier song was “widely disseminated,” or by showing a “chain of events” linking the two songs.
Judge Sykes concluded that the members of Artikal Sound System failed to do either in their complaint.
“From approximately March 2017 to April 2018, the period during which defendants concededly wrote Levitating, plaintiffs performed Live Your Life at an unspecified number of live performances, mostly in Florida, and sold ‘several hundred’ physical copies of the CD on which Live Your Life appears,” Judge Sykes wrote.
“They also contend that their song was featured during this period in Billboard’s Reggae chart, one Jamaican newspaper, and a video advertisement for a Delray Beach summer event called ‘2018 Beerfest.’ Finally, they note that Live Your Life is and has been widely available online via streaming platforms.”
The judge concluded that “these allegations are not … enough to plead wide dissemination. Plaintiffs’ failure to specify how frequently they performed Live Your Life publicly during the specified period, where these performances took place, and the size of the venues and/or audiences precludes the court from finding that plaintiffs’ live performances of the song plausibly contributed to its saturation of markets in which defendants would have encountered it. Their vague allegations concerning CD sales are similarly deficient.”
Judge Sykes was equally unimpressed by Artikal Sound System’s claim that Levitating co-writer Clarence Coffee worked with another writer, Ali Tamposi, on another song that appeared on the same album as Levitating; that Tamposi was “taught guitar” by the brother-in-law of one of the members of Artikal Sound System; and that Tamposi and the Artikal Sound System member were Facebook friends.
“These attenuated links, which bear little connection to either of the two musical compositions at issue here, also do not suggest a reasonable likelihood that defendants actually encountered plaintiffs’ song during the relevant time period,” Judge Sykes concluded.
The judge also granted leave to Artikal Sound System to amend their original complaint. In dismissing the case, Judge Sykes gave Artikal Sound System until June 16 to do so.
The judge also rejected a motion by Lipa and the other defendants to have the case transferred to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, so that it could be heard alongside or merged with another lawsuit involving Levitating.
In this lawsuit, also filed in 2022, songwriters L. Russell Brown and Sandy Linzer alleged that Levitating copied their 1979 track Wiggle and Giggle All Night, as well as a 1980 track called Don Diablo.
“These attenuated links… do not suggest a reasonable likelihood that defendants actually encountered plaintiffs’ song during the relevant time period.”
Judge Sunshine S. Sykes, US District Court for the Central District of California
Nevertheless, the partial victory marks the latest in a series of legal cases where prominent musical artists have successfully defended their works against accusations of copyright infringement.
Last month, British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran won two cases in a New York federal court where it was alleged that his 2014 hit Thinking Out Loud ripped off Marvin Gaye’s 1973 classic Let’s Get It On.
A year earlier, Sheeran successfully defended himself in a lawsuit alleging that his 2017 hit Shape of You copied Oh Why, a 2015 song by British songwriter Sami Chokri (aka Sami Switch).
Earlier this year, a New York federal court dismissed a case against Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) that alleged Glover’s Grammy-winning 2018 track This Is America copied a track called Made In America, by Florida rapper Enelike Nwosucha (aka Kidd Wes).Music Business Worldwide