The Legal Beat: Kanye’s Lawyers Cut Ties – Plus Slacker, Coachella and 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: Major law firms cut ties with Kanye West over his antisemitic comments, Slacker fights with SoundExchange over a huge royalties judgment, Coachella sues a nearby business called “Coachillin,” and much more.

THE BIG STORY: Kanye West Is Running Out of Lawyers

After a string of antisemitic statements earlier this month, Kanye West has lost nearly every aspect of his once-formidable business empire. His representatives at CAA have dropped him, and his signature fashion partnerships with Adidas, The Gap and Balenciaga have all been terminated.

You can now add his lawyers to that list.

Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft, the prestigious Wall Street firm that represented Kanye in his dealings with Gap, confirmed to multiple outlets last week that the firm is not currently representing him and “have made the decision not to work with him in the future.”

Greenberg Traurig, a top music firm that’s repping him in both a copyright lawsuit and an employment case, said it was taking steps to withdraw from those cases as fast as ethically possible: “This firm was founded by individuals who faced discrimination and many of us lost ancestors because of that kind of hate and prejudice,” the firm wrote in a statement, referring to Jewish founders Larry Hoffman, Mel Greenberg and Robert Traurig.

Robert Cohen of Cohen Clair Lans Greifer Thorpe & Rottenstreich, the rapper’s sixth divorce attorney in his split with Kim Kardashian who he only just hired in September, has also dropped him, according to a report from Reuters. And Brown Rudnick partner Camille Vasquez, who rose to prominence representing Johnny Depp in his defamation case against Amber Heard, quit just days after being hired by the embattled rapper, as first reported by the New York Post.

It seems even prospective lawyers are distancing themselves. Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan partner Alex Spiro, a Billboard Top Music Lawyer who reps Jay-Z and Elon Musk, told Reuters that Ye “asked me to be his attorney but the representation never formalized.” Spiro made it clear: “I do not represent Mr. West.”

A lack of options for legal representation isn’t a great situation for West, because he has no shortage of legal problems.

Even if he avoids any court battles over his various corporate breakups — and that’s far from certain, given the messy web of intellectual property he splits with Adidas and other former partners — he’s still got plenty of litigation ahead, including looming December deadlines in the divorce case; multiple copyright lawsuits over claims of illegal sampling; a case claiming he stiffed a production company that worked on his Sunday Service; a lawsuit claiming he refused to return clothes to a high-end fashion rental service; a case claiming he owes $4.5 million to a celebrity accountant he abruptly fired; and threats of lawsuits from the family of George Floyd over his incendiary statements about Floyd’s killing.

Other top stories this week…

SLACKER’S ROYALTY WOES – Slacker warned a judge that a recent ruling, requiring the streamer to hand over nearly $10 million in unpaid royalties to SoundExchange, would cause “economic damage” for the company that would be “unsustainable.” But SoundExchange quickly fired back that it had spent years “indulging” such excuses and that labels and artists had waited “long enough” to get paid by the streamer: “The court should deny defendants’ latest attempt to shirk their obligations with the promise that next time will be different.”

COACHELLA v. ‘COACHILLIN’ – AEG’s Goldenvoice, the owner of Coachella, filed a trademark infringement lawsuit over a planned “Coachillin” business park located just a few miles north of the festival grounds at the Empire Polo Club. The suit said the 160-acre development plan, aimed at cannabis businesses, isn’t a problem — but needs to pick a new name: “The public has come to associate the phrase ‘Coachillin’ to refer to the Coachella Festival and plaintiffs, not merely to refer to the Coachella Valley — and certainly not Coachillin Holdings.” The case is the latest in a string of trademark cases from Goldenvoice, which sued Ticketmaster last year over a New Year’s Eve concert called “Coachella Day One 22″ and sued a West African company last month over an event called “Afrochella.”

COMEDY CARTEL? JUDGE SAYS NO – A federal judge rejected one of Pandora’s key arguments in its legal battle with comedians, dismissing claims that a licensing group called Word Collections was operating as an illegal comedy “cartel” that violated federal antitrust laws. The ruling came in sprawling litigation filed by a slew of comics who want Pandora to start paying the equivalent of publishing royalties for spoken-word content. Faced with those allegations, the streamer responded by arguing that Word Collections and the comedians were effectively trying to create a “monopolistic portfolio” of comedy rights, aimed at “dramatically increasing” the prices streamers must pay. But in the ruling this week, the judge didn’t buy it — saying Pandora didn’t properly allege that the comics had conspired to fix prices, nor that their grouping amounted to an illegal monopoly in the comedy world.

BAIL REVOKED FOR TORY LANEZ – A Los Angeles judge ordered Tory Lanez to be placed under house arrest ahead of a trial over accusations that he shot Megan Thee Stallion, citing an incident last month in which the singer allegedly assaulted singer August Alsina in Chicago. The singer is facing more than 22 years in prison over the alleged July 2020 altercation with Stallion, in which he allegedly shot her in the foot during an argument following a party in the Hollywood Hills. The trial is set to kick off at the end of November and the singer had been out on bail, but in September Alsina claimed that Lanez and his entourage attacked him following a Chicago concert. Prosecutors at the time said they were investigating those claims, and Judge David Herriford cited the accusations to revoke Lanez’ bail this week.

Bill Donahue