No. 2:19-cv-9107 (C.D. Cal. 2019)
Defendants’ [Counterclaim Plaintiffs] Work
Melissa Jefferson (“Lizzo”)
Justin Raisen; Jeremiah Raisen
Comment by Charles Cronin
This dispute, like “Blurred Lines”, was instigated by harassment of the plaintiff by defendants attempting to extract a payout from her. This has led to bizarre nomenclature (MEMORANDUM … IN SUPPORT OF MOTION TO DISMISS DEFENDANTS AND COUNTERCLAIM PLAINTIFFS’ SECOND COUNTERCLAIM) that brings to mind the delectable contract scene in the Marx Brothers’ Night at the Opera.
Jefferson’s (“Lizzo”) initial complaint (below) aptly sums up this dispute (and so many similar ones) with the phrases: “out of the woodwork” and “pay them to go away.” The Raisens’ (Defendants) Counterclaim (below) provides no meaningful factual arguments for their infringement allegations, but a great deal of irrelevant text message correspondence among the parties, and photographs of them together at the home of one of the Defendants.
It appears that the Defendants simply cannot abide the fact that they did not financially benefit from a hit containing a few ideas they once bandied about with the performer. There is minimal protectable expression in Lizzo’s song. This is true of most rap songs, which commonly use existing verbal material, and minimal, repetitive musical expression. The Defendants’ infringement claim devolves to an allegation that Lizzo used in her hit song a brief verbal expression once trending on social media, that they played with together in an earlier jam session. Even if the expression were protectable, the Defendants were not the authors of it. And, of course the idea of including it in a song is not copyrightable, even if doing so may have contributed to the song’s eventual popularity.
On August 14, 2020 U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee dismissed the Raisens’ claim that they were co-authors of “Truth Hurts”. The facts alleged by the Raisens, she notes, indicate that the song “Healthy” was a completed work, not a work-in-progress that resulted in the differently titled “Truth Hurts”. The Raisens, therefore, could not be considered co-authors of “Truth Hurts” even if it were determined that the later song was derivative of “Healthy”. The Raisins are now in a bind: while Judge Gee offered them the opportunity to recast their claim without asserting joint authorship of “Truth Hurts”, doing so “is not without peril” of undermining their credibility as litigants. Despite Judge Gee’s cautionary observation, the Raisens continued to pursue their claim, essentially on the same grounds that Judge Gee deemed legally insufficient. On April 27, 2021 Judge Gee again granted Lizzo’s Motion to Dismiss, with an Order (below) that painstakingly explains, yet again, the legal deficiency of the Raisins’ claim, which remains grounded in a faulty understanding of the potential scope of their rights in a work purportedly derived from an earlier song in which they claim a joint authorship interest.
From Judge Gee’s Order one infers she found the Raisens’ Amended Counterclaim little more than a warmed-over version of their first. Perhaps the implications one might draw from this observation about Gee’s opinion of the ability or commitment of the Raisens’ legal representation in this matter goaded their lawyers huffing and puffing, as reported in a Law360 article (April 28, 2021) about the dispute being far from over, that the Raisens “will get paid,” and that “Judge Gee’s dismissal does not change the fact that ‘Truth Hurts’ would not exist without the [Raisens’] substantial musical contributions.”
Defendants’ Counterclaim: PDF
Plaintiffs’ Motion to Dismiss: PDF
District Court Order Re: Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Counterclaim: PDF
District Court Order Re: Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Defendants/Counterclaimants’ First Amended Counterclaim (April, 2021): PDF