The Legal Beat: 2022 Year In Review – Taylor Swift, Cardi B, Young Thug & More

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: A special New Year’s newsletter, looking back at the biggest legal stories from 2022, the top stories from over the holidays, and what to watch in 2023.

A quick programming note: Starting immediately, the email version of the Legal Beat newsletter is now free. All current readers will continue to get the newsletter directly into their inbox every Tuesday, but now anyone else can also sign up HERE to receive a weekly recap of every big story from the world of music law.

Year In Review: 2022’s Top Legal Stories

Some of the most important music industry stories of 2022 were legal stories, so we put together a handy year-end guide to catch you up on all the big developments.

As always, copyright cases dominated the list. Taylor Swift finally escaped a case over “Shake It Off,” Ed Sheeran won a big trial over “Shape of You (but faces another one soon over “Thinking Out Loud”) and Katy Perry made important case law when she defeated a case over “Dark Horse.”

Cardi B had a big year all by herself. She won a $4 million defamation verdict against a bomb-throwing YouTuber, then beat back a multimillion lawsuit claiming she Photoshopped a random guy onto the “raunchy” cover of a mixtape. Oh, and she also resolved a long-standing criminal case in New York by taking a misdemeanor plea deal.

But arguably the most important story of the year was the use of rap lyrics in criminal trials.

Billboard did a deep-dive in March, detailing how the practice had persisted for years despite longstanding criticism that it unfairly sways juries and threatens artistic expression — and that was before we knew what the year had in store. In May, hip-hop superstars Young Thug and Gunna were hit with a sweeping indictment that quoted heavily from their lyrics and then left to sit in jail for months, bringing unprecedented new attention to the issue. Atlanta prosecutors offered no apologies for the music-heavy charges, but in September, lawmakers in California enacted landmark legislation that would sharply restrict the practice in that state, creating a blueprint that other jurisdictions might follow.

Top stories to watch in 2023…

RAP ON TRIAL – A big issue from 2022 figures to take center stage again in 2023. Jury selection in the case against Young Thug and other YSL members (though not Gunna, who pleaded out in December) will kick off next week in Atlanta, setting the stage for a blockbuster trial that could last many months. And after coming up just short in 2022, lawmakers in New York will again try to pass legislation that could limit how prosecutors in that state use rap music to win convictions.

COPYRIGHT CONTINUUM – After a year full of big copyright cases, 2023 could be even more jam-packed. Dua Lipa will try to evade two separate infringement lawsuits over her smash hit “Levitating,” while Ed Sheeran will face a jury trial over whether his “Thinking Out Loud” infringed Marvin Gaye‘s iconic “Let’s Get It On.” And don’t forget the big class actions against the labels over termination rights, the looming Supreme Court ruling over Andy Warhol’s image of Prince or the upcoming trial in a case against Post Malone.

DR. LUKE V. KESHA – After nearly nine years of litigation, a trial is finally set for July in Dr. Luke’s defamation lawsuit against Kesha over her bombshell rape accusations against the producer. A trial had previously been scheduled to start in February, but it cannot take place until New York’s highest court decides two pending appeals dealing with big issues — big for both the case and for media law generally.

What you missed over the holiday week…

CARDI WINS AGAIN – A federal judge refused to overturn Cardi B’s courtroom victory in a lawsuit filed by Kevin Brophy, a man who was unwittingly Photoshopped to look like he was performing oral sex on the superstar on the cover of her debut mixtape. Two months after jurors cleared Cardi of any wrongdoing, the judge ruled that he would not “second-guess” the verdict.

MEGAN HEADED TO TRIAL – A judge sided with Megan Thee Stallion in an early skirmish in her legal war with record label 1501 Certified Entertainment, refusing to grant the company a quick victory and ordering the case to instead be decided by a jury. 1501 had argued that the judge himself could decide whether her 2021 release Something for Thee Hotties counted as an “album” under her record deal, but her lawyers said she must be “allowed her day in court.”
STEVEN TYLER ABUSE CASEAerosmith singer Steven Tyler was hit with a lawsuit accusing him of sexually assaulting a minor in the 1970s, claiming he convinced her parents to sign over custody and forced her to get an abortion. The case was filed by Julia Holcomb, who says she was the underage girl that Tyler repeatedly referenced in his racy 2011 memoir, in which he said he was “so in love I almost took a teen bride.”

Bill Donahue