New Dua Lipa Saga Shows Complexity of Song Copyright Law

Aron Solomon

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It’s a pretty exceptional week for any musician when they are sued not once but twice in for multiple copyright violations in the same song. But this is Dua Lipa’s current reality, as she was sued by a reggae band and faces a second lawsuit regarding the same song, Levitating.

Billboard reported that Dua Lipa is facing this second lawsuit, this time from songwriters L. Russell Brown and Sandy Linzer who claim that the song duplicates elements of two of the songs they wrote, 1979's “Wiggle and a Giggle All Night”, and 1980's “Don Diablo.

Dua Lipa plans to vigorously defend these suits, claiming that her music is all a product of her inspiration.

Yet last week’s first lawsuit by reggae artist, Artikal Sound System, also claimed that the same song, Levitating, was simply theft of their song “Live Your Life.”

Krenar Camili, a New Jersey lawyer, points out that

“Legally, there is a fine line between being inspired by an era of music or an individual song, and copying elements of music without attribution. In a music copyright claim, courts are going to look at how plausible it is that an artist created something on their own.”

As Metro UK points out, the stakes are potentially huge here. Levitating has spent 68 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart and was the number one Hot 100 song of 2021. This could mean that either or both of the lawsuits could be settled or might reach a verdict for a significant amount of money. But high profile artists with remarkably successful songs are also a magnet for copyright trolls seeking to get in the spotlight and profit from people actually doing popular, unique work.

The reality is that, as a general principle, artists such as Dua Lipa are an easy target for those seeking to make even a spurious legal argument that an artist’s new music today is based, in part, on theft.

Which category “Levitating” falls into remains to be seen. What is certain is that Dua Lipa and all artists inflicted by a genre, time period, or specific songs may endure similar refrains when their world crosses the line from imitation as a form of flattery to straight-up theft.

The main problem Dua Lipa will have in these two lawsuits is the human ear. No matter your feelings on this artist, their work, and their creativity, a neutral listener can’t help but admit that Levitating sounds very much like the two songs that are the subject of this litigation. If the jury agrees, Dua Lipa may have a significant financial burden to bear as the song in issue has been remarkably successful.

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Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital, who has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world.

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