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: Lawyers for Michael Jackson’s estate send a legal threat letter over the recent release of a rare Jackson 5 recording; Sean “Diddy” Combs and a former Recording Academy boss are both hit with sexual assault lawsuits as music’s #MeToo wave continues; Google loses an epic antitrust battle over smartphone apps; and much more.
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THE BIG STORY: MJ’s Estate Threatens Lawsuit Over Rare Recording
“We write to put you on notice regarding several matters that expose you to liability to the Jackson Estate.”
That’s never a great thing to read, but it’s particularly problematic if you’ve just announced to the world that you’re about to digitally release a rare Jackson 5 song that holds the distinction as “Michael Jackson’s first ever studio recording.”
A day after a Swedish company called anotherblock did precisely that, attorneys for Michael’s estate sent a letter warning that they weren’t happy about the plan. They said the release “violates” the estate’s trademark and likeness rights, and that the company was potentially “misleading the public” by claiming the song was the first-ever Jackson recording.
“We have serious doubts that Michael would have ever wanted these recordings released and commercialized,” the estate’s attorneys wrote. “What you are doing is the opposite of honoring Michael Jackson.”
Go read the entire story here, including access to the full letter sent by the estate.
Other top stories this week…
DIDDY SUED YET AGAIN – Another woman — the fourth in three weeks — filed a lawsuit against Sean “Diddy” Combs over allegations of sexual assault. The unnamed Jane Doe accuser claims she was “sex trafficked” and “gang raped” by Combs, former Bad Boy Records president Harve Pierre and another man in 2003 when she was 17 years old. Combs, who had mostly stayed quiet since allegations started flying, responded that “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” and that he “did not do any of the awful things being alleged.”
MORE MUSIC #METOO CLAIMS – Former Recording Academy CEO Mike Greene and the academy itself were hit with a lawsuit alleging Greene sexually assaulted an Academy employee named Terri McIntyre in the 1990s. The woman claims that during her tenure at the Academy from 1994 to 1996, she was “forced to endure pervasive, incessant and routine sexual harassment and/or sexual assault” from Greene and that the Academy enabled it by failing to take action.
GOOGLE LOSES MONOPOLY CASE – A jury found that Google violated federal antitrust laws by maintaining an illegal monopoly over the Android app market, siding with Epic Games, the maker of the hit video game Fortnite. The case had been closely watched by digital music services like Spotify because Epic’s lawsuit challenges the fees that Google and Apple require apps to pay for in-app transactions and subscriptions.
LIL DURK DOUBLE DIP? – The Chicago rapper was sued by a fintech firm called Exceed Talent Capital, which claims that Durk agreed to grant the company the recording royalties from his song “Bedtime” even though he had already signed an exclusive deal with Sony’s Alamo Records — an alleged double-dip that Exceed called a “manifest fraud.”
TYGA’S INFRINGING SNEAKERS – A federal appeals court sided with Vans and ruled that Tyga‘s “Wavy Baby” sneakers — a parody of the company’s classic Old Skool — likely violate the shoe company’s trademarks. The company that partnered with the rapper to create the sneaker (MSCHF) argued that it had been designed to criticize “sneakerhead” consumerist culture and was thus protected by the First Amendment. But the court said that the shoe was entitled to “no special First Amendment protections” and that the sneaker was likely to confuse consumers into thinking it was an authentic Vans partnership.
TWITTER SUED OVER COPYRIGHTS – SUISA, the music royalties collecting society in Switzerland, sued X Corp. (formerly Twitter) in German court over allegations that the social media site has allowed infringing content to be posted to the platform. The lawsuit mirrors a similar case filed against Twitter in U.S. court in June by dozens of music publishers who are seeking as much as $255 million in damages.
TICKETING REFORM ADVANCES – Legislation that aims to make buying concert tickets an easier, more straightforward process was voted forward by a U.S. House of Representatives committee, clearing the way for a full House vote. Among other features, the proposed STOP Act would require sellers to post final “all-in” prices that include fees, as well as ensure buyers can get refunds after cancellations. Days after the vote, a similar bill, The Fans First Act, was introduced in the Senate by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers.
CRIP MAC FACES GUN CHARGE – YouTuber and rapper Trevor Hurd, who goes by the name Crip Mac, was arrested in Los Angeles on federal gun charges. The arrest by U.S. Marshals came moments after a California judge agreed to drop state gun charges against Mac over the same alleged wrongdoing — a not-uncommon step after state prosecutors coordinate with the U.S. Attorneys Office.