The Legal Beat: Phoebe Bridgers & Spotify Can’t Dodge Depositions

The Legal Beat: Phoebe Bridgers & Spotify Can’t Dodge Depositions

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: Phoebe Bridgers and Spotify CEO Daniel Ek both try (and fail) to avoid sitting for depositions by arguing “harassment,” Cardi B secures a permanent injunction against a YouTuber’s “disgusting lies,” Brian Wilson faces a fight with his ex-wife over his previously-undisclosed $50 million publishing deal, and more.

THE BIG STORY: Are Depositions Harassment?

Nobody likes being deposed. Not Justin Bieber, not Mark Zuckerberg – nobody. But does asking for a deposition of a powerful or famous person count as “harassment”? That question cropped up twice last week in major music cases, one involving Phoebe Bridgers and another with Spotify CEO Daniel Ek.Bridgers is facing accusations that she defamed producer Chris Nelson by echoing allegations of abuse made against him by another woman. She’s argued he’s using the court system to try to silence her and wants the case dismissed immediately, but Nelson says the judge can’t rule until he gets a chance to depose her. Since he needs to prove that she acted with “actual malice” – that she lied intentionally or reckless disregarded the truth – Nelson says he must be able ask her whether about her mindset when she posted the accusations.Last month, Bridgers argued that Nelson was merely trying to burden her and delay the proceedings by seeking depositions and other discovery. Her attorneys warned that Nelson’s “amorphous request for discovery,” based on what they called “circular” logic, was “nothing more than thinly veiled harassment.”But in a ruling last week, a Los Angeles judge sided with Nelson. Because Bridgers’ “subjective belief” is critical to Nelson’s case, the judge said the singer herself “is necessarily the primary, if not sole, source of evidence regarding actual malice.” The judge didn’t address Bridgers’ claim of harassment.In Spotify’s case, the company is facing a copyright lawsuit for allegedly failing to obtain the proper mechanical licenses to play Eminem’s music. Faced with a demand to depose Ek, the streamer argued he had little information to offer about the lawsuit, and that Eminem’s publisher was just trying to “harass and annoy” him.In particular, the company said Ek was not “directly involved in Spotify’s day-to-day licensing practices, let alone its U.S. mechanical-licensing practices in particular.” And it argued that a top-level executive like Ek should not be drawn into a court case without very good reason, because it imposes a heavy burden on someone with a busy schedule and global responsibilities.But in another decision last week, a federal judge said the chief executive would need to find the time.“Undoubtedly Mr. Ek has a full schedule [and] the court credits Spotify’s assertion that he is very busy indeed,” the judge wrote. “Yet, the issue of proper licensing relationships with the artists whose work comprises the entirety of Spotify’s business and its sole product is surely also a matter of importance to Spotify, worthy of some of Mr. Ek’s time and attention.”Bridgers is due for questioning before the end of the month; a schedule wasn’t set for Ek’s deposition. Let’s just hope they handle the questions a little bit better than Robin Thicke and Pharrell did.

Billboard’s favorite lawyers revealed…

Before we get to the rest of this week’s news, a brief spotlight on Top Music Lawyers – Billboard’s yearly showcase of music industry attorneys. The 2022 list is out now, featuring the best of the legal best: the top in-house counsel working at the labels and streamers, the elite dealmakers handling all those catalog sales, and the feared litigators repping artists and music companies when they head to court. For this year’s list, we asked the attorneys not only about their big clients and major achievements, but also their top concerns for the music business. Go read the whole thing to find out what they said.

Other top stories this week…

CARDI B WINS INJUNCTION – The rapper secured a court order against Tasha K that requires the YouTuber to pull down more than 20 defamatory videos and bans her from ever posting about Cardi again on a range of specific subjects, including herpes, cocaine or “a debasing act with a beer bottle.” The order came two months after Cardi B won a $4 million verdict over the videos, which the rapper called “disgusting lies.” Up next: an appeal of the verdict to the Eleventh Circuit.BRIAN WILSON’S $50M DEAL SPARKS LEGAL BATTLE – Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson is facing a new lawsuit from his ex-wife that claims she’s owed millions from his previously-undisclosed $50 million deal with Universal Music Publishing Group. The case is one of many facing the music industry that center on “termination rights” – the power to regain music from a label or publisher decades after it was sold. The root of the dispute? Part of Wilson’s UMG deal involved a large payment to avoid a dispute over termination, but his lawyers say she’s not entitled to that money because it happened years after they got divorced.BLACK CROWES DRUMMER SEEKS LEGAL ‘REMEDY’ – Former Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman filed a lawsuit accusing former bandmates Chris and Rich Robinson of not paying proper royalties and refusing to allow him to audit the band’s books in the years since he left in 2012. He said: “I regret that it has come to this, as I remain incredibly proud of the music we created as a band, but their conduct has left me with no choice.”SONY CAN’T BEAT TM SUIT OVER ALBUM NAME – Band names often lead to trademark disputes, but what about album names? A federal judge shot down Sony Music’s motion to dismiss one such case, which claims that High Off Life – the name of Future’s chart-topping 2020 album – infringed the rights of a creative agency that uses that exact same name. Expressive works like music are usually shielded from such lawsuits by the First Amendment, but the judge ruled that it was too early in the lawsuit to dismiss the case on those grounds.ELON IS AN EMINEM FAN, APPARENTLY – Elon Musk cited an unusual legal authority in his latest courtroom clash with the Securities and Exchange Commission: Eminem. Asking a federal judge to revoke strict rules that require him to get his tweets about Tesla pre-approved by lawyers, Musk quoted from Eminem’s 2002 “Without Me.” The song makes reference to a case in which the Federal Communications Commission fined a radio station for playing Eminem’s music – a fine that was later lifted out of deference to the First Amendment. Musk’s point? That the SEC’s restriction on his tweeting pose similar free-speech concerns.

The best of the rest…

-6ix9ine reached a settlement to end a copyright lawsuit filed by a Texas-based production group called Beatdemons, which had claimed that the rapper had copied the melody, structure, and overall composition of his 2020 single “Gooba” from their 2018 song “Regular.” (Complex)-Six separate copyright lawsuits filed by comedians against Pandora over royalties were formally consolidated into a single large case. The litigation, which involves the estates of Robin Williams and George Carlin and several living comics, accuses the streamer of failing to pay the equivalent of publishing royalties for spoken-word content. (Law360)-Fortnite owner Epic Games was hit with a lawsuit by a YouTuber who says the game infringed his copyrighted choreography by offering gamers a dance move called “It’s Complicated.” The case is the latest in a string of similar (largely unsuccessful) cases against Epic over such “emote” dances in Fortnite. (Polygon)

 

The Legal Beat: Phoebe Bridgers & Spotify Can’t Dodge Depositions 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: Phoebe Bridgers and Spotify CEO Daniel Ek both try (and fail)…