The Legal Beat: Drake Sued Over Fake Vogue Cover – Plus Astroworld, Mariah Carey & 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: Drake is sued for using a fake Vogue cover story to promote his new album, the sprawling lawsuit over Astroworld passes the one-year mark with no quick end in sight, Mariah Carey beats a lawsuit over “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and much more.


THE BIG STORY: Vogue Isn’t Laughing About Drake’s PR Stunt

A publicity stunt is all fun and games until somebody gets sued.

For the past week, Drake and 21 Savage have been on a media blitz to promote their new album Her Loss, which debuted Friday. The stars appeared on the cover of an issue of Vogue magazine, performed on Saturday Night Live, teased an appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk and sat for an interview on The Howard Stern Show.

Just one problem: All of those appearances were fake. The Vogue covers were photoshopped onto fake issues distributed around the country (Jennifer Lawrence was on the real October issue); the SNL performance was a spoof, with a high-profile assist from Michael B. Jordan as the fake “host”; NPR quickly confirmed the Tiny Desk show wasn’t happening; and the Stern appearance was an elaborate deepfake.

The whole thing appears to be a publicity stunt, carried out by an artist who doesn’t really need to do promo for his album releases and hasn’t done so in recent years — but would be eagerly invited to actually appear on those outlets if he wanted to go that route.

Case in point: NPR used the stunt as an opportunity to tell the star he was “welcome anytime” on the beloved concert series: “Let’s do it forreal tho.” And Stern laughed the whole thing off, jokingly quipping about the convincing deepfake version of himself: “Whenever I have to visit my mother, I wish I could do this.” No word from SNL, but a show famous for parody is unlikely to be offended.

The same cannot be said for Vogue publisher Condé Nast, which filed a lawsuit against Drake and 21 in New York federal court this week that called the stunt a “flagrant infringement” of the company’s trademark rights, aimed at exploiting the “tremendous value that a cover feature in Vogue magazine carries” without actually securing that honor.

The publisher seemed particularly miffed by Drake’s Instagram post teasing the fake cover story, in which he personally thanked famed Vogue editor Anna Wintour. The infamous magazine editor “had no involvement” with Drake’s album and has “not endorsed it in any way,” Condé’s lawyers wrote.

If the case doesn’t immediately settle with Drake pulling down the images (a strong possibility in any trademark case) Condé’s lawsuit could lead to an interesting debate over parody. Is Drake’s stunt a commentary on the way media outlets like Vogue or SNL (or Billboard, for that matter) team up with celebrities to help them promote their latest offerings? Or is he just exploiting their names to pump sales of his album without actually doing the hard work of a press tour?

The Other Big Story: Astroworld Update

A year on from the deadly disaster at Travis Scott‘s Astroworld festival, Billboard took a deep dive into the status of the sprawling lawsuit that’s been filed by victims.

More than 4,900 legal claims have been filed against Live Nation, Scott and other festival organizers, accusing them of being legally negligent in how they planned and conducted the event. Combined, the cases are seeking billions in damages over the disaster.

With no quick ending in sight, we asked some of the country’s top experts in such cases: Where do things stand? What comes next? And how will it all end? Read the whole thing here.

Other top stories this week…

RECORD LABELS WIN BIG PIRACY VERDICT – A federal jury in Texas ordered internet service provider Grande Communications to pay more than $46 million in damages to the three major record labels and others over music illegally downloaded by the company’s subscribers. The case was one of several filed by music companies against ISPs, aimed at forcing them to take more proactive steps to eliminate piracy on their networks — the same kind of case that ended with a shocking $1 billion verdict against Cox Communications in 2019.

OBSCURE RULE IS BIG WIN FOR SONGWRITERS – As first reported by Billboard last week, the U.S. Copyright Office is quietly proposing a new rule to make sure that songwriters who invoke their termination rights actually get paid their streaming royalties. The rule change would overturn a previous “erroneous” policy by the Mechanical Licensing Collective that critics worried could potentially have kept sending such money to former owners in perpetuity, even after a songwriter has reclaimed their rights. Groups like the Recording Academy and the Songwriters of North America, which lobbied for the rule change, praised it as a win for songwriters.

MARIAH CAREY ‘CHRISTMAS’ ACCUSER DROPS CASEVince Vance, a songwriter who sued Mariah Carey over accusations that she stole her “All I Want for Christmas is You” from his earlier song of the same name, dropped his lawsuit over Carey’s 1994 holiday blockbuster. But he dismissed the case “without prejudice,” leaving open the possibility that he could refile the case at some point in the future. If you’re confused why Carey can be sued over a decades-old song, go read our explainer on the issue (spoiler: because the Supreme Court said so!) Though legally dubious, Vance’s case was a big deal simply because Carey’s song is a big deal: It has reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 during each of the past three holiday seasons.

KESHA & DR. LUKE GET A TRIAL DATE – A New York judge scheduled a July trial for Dr. Luke’s defamation lawsuit against Kesha, setting the stage for a courtroom showdown nearly nine years after the case was first filed. A trial had previously been scheduled to start in February, but with key issues in the case still awaiting rulings by a state appeals court, both sides saw that plan as unworkable (and blamed the other for the delay). If you’ve forgotten: Dr. Luke is accusing Kesha of defaming him with a “false and shocking” allegation that he drugged and raped her after a 2005 party.

The best of the rest…

Kanye West paid a settlement to a former employee who alleged having witnessed more than one incident in which the once-beloved rapper praised Hitler or Nazis in business meetings. In the settlement agreement, West denied the claims made by the former employee. (NBC News)

-The U.S. Supreme Court said it wouldn’t hear music producer Gary “G-Money” Frisby’s copyright suit against Sony Music and rapper Bryson Tiller over beats on Tiller’s album Trapsoul. (Law360)

Trey Songz won the dismissal of a $20 million sexual assault lawsuit that had been filed, dismissed and then re-filed by a Jane Doe accuser. A judge ruled that the accuser missed a key deadline to respond to Songz’s defense that the statute of limitations on her allegations had expired. (Rolling Stone)

Bill Donahue