Shapiro Arato Bach Wins Dismissal Of Claim For Co-Ownership Of Lizzo’s No. 1 Hit “Truth Hurts”

On August 14, 2020, Judge Dolly M. Gee of Federal Court in Los Angeles granted Shapiro Arato Bach’s motion to dismiss 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), all the musicians alleged was 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.”

The musicians took a different tack when they opposed Lizzo’s motion to dismiss. They argued that Truth Hurts was not a separate work that copied from the unreleased demo but was, instead, a “continuation” of the unreleased demo.

Judge Gee agreed with Lizzo that the musicians could not co-own the separate work Truth Hurts even if they did co-own the unreleased demo, and that the musicians’ arguments opposing Lizzo’s motion were “irreconcilably inconsistent with the facts” they had alleged in their claim.  Although Judge Gee granted the musicians leave to amend their claims, the Judge cautioned that such an amendment would “not [be] without peril, as inconsistent allegations may be used to undermine a litigant’s credibility.”

Shapiro Arato Bach partner Cynthia S. Arato represents Lizzo in this case.

The decision can be found here.

The decision received widespread press coverage.  Coverage of the decision can be found here and here.