Shapiro Arato Bach Wins Dismissal (Again) Of Claim For Co-Ownership Of Lizzo’s No. 1 Hit “Truth Hurts”
On April 27, 2021, Judge Dolly M. Gee of Federal Court in Los Angeles granted Shapiro Arato Bach’s motion to dismiss amended claims asserted against firm client Melissa Jefferson, aka Lizzo. The case is Melissa Jefferson v. Justin Raisen, et al.
Lizzo filed this case in 2019, seeking a declaration that various musicians do not co-own her hit song Truth Hurts. The musicians brought their own competing claims for a declaration that they did co-own Truth Hurts. They claimed to co-own the hit song because Lizzo had previously recorded part of that work – a line about the results of a DNA test – in an unreleased demo that she had recorded with the musicians.
The firm moved to dismiss the musicians’ claims, arguing that even if the musicians were co-owners of the unreleased work (which Lizzo disputes), the musicians alleged only that they and Lizzo had created a “standalone song” from which Lizzo allegedly took elements for Truth Hurts and that “joint ownership in a prior work is insufficient to make one a joint author of a derivative work.” In a decision entered on August 14, 2020, Judge Gee dismissed the co-ownership claim, but gave the musicians leave to amend. They did so—now claiming that Truth Hurts had “evolved” out of the unreleased demo and was the supposed final product of that earlier alleged work. The firm again moved to dismiss on Lizzo’s behalf.
In her decision granting Lizzo’s motion, Judge Gee held that the musicians’ amended pleading continued to allege that the unreleased demo and Truth Hurts were distinct songs, and that as a result, the musicians’ alleged co-authorship of the unreleased demo did not make them co-authors of Truth Hurts. Judge Gee rejected the musicians’ new allegations as “mere labels and conclusions” and noted that they were contradicted by the musician’s own musicologist’s report, which the musicians had referenced in their claims. Finally, Judge Gee agreed with Lizzo that the musicians’ failure sufficiently to plead two of the key co-ownership factors – “intent” and “control” – was fatal to their claim to co-own Truth Hurts. Judge Gee dismissed the musicians’ co-ownership claim (and related claims seeking part of the profits generated by Truth Hurts) with prejudice.
Shapiro Arato Bach partner Cynthia S. Arato and associate Julian S. Brod represent Lizzo in this case.
The decision can be found here.