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Maybe a DNA Test Isn’t Enough? Lizzo Asks the Court to Declare Her 100% the Author of “Truth Hurts” | Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law

Melissa Jefferson–the budding, body-positive, female singer and rapper assuming the stage name Lizzo–has skyrocketed in popularity in 2019. Her song “Truth Hurts” has just marked its seventh week at the top of Billboard’s charts, tying Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” for the longest reigning #1 hit by a female rapper. However, intellectual property claims made to the song’s profits have now forced Lizzo into the court system to defend her rights to the song. On Wednesday, October 16th, Lizzo filed suit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, seeking a declaratory judgment that brothers Justin and Jeremiah Raisen, along with Yves Rothman, in no way participated in the creation of “Truth Hurts.”

The Raisens began an aggressive social media campaign last week, proclaiming partial ownership of “Truth Hurts.” This claim, they allege, is justified by their participation in a 2017 writing session with Lizzo and other songwriters concerning a different song, “Healthy,” which never came to fruition. At this session, one of the writers of “Truth Hurts” allegedly showed the group a viral tweet by British singer Mina Lioness. It contained the phrase “I did a DNA test and found out I’m 100% that b****,” which is almost identical to the iconic line in “Truth Hurts.” Jeremiah Raisen claims he then suggested putting that line in the song. Yves Rothman was also in attendance at this session and has begun to make similar claims following those made by the Raisen brothers.

Lizzo has now openly stated that she intends to share royalties and credit with the original author of the tweet but will go no further. She filed suit in District Court, requesting a judgment declaring that the Raisens and Rothman have no claim to the song. She complains that the Raisens have requested a total of 20% of “Truth Hurts'” royalties and conducted an “escalating campaign of harrassment” against her and the other writers of the song. In her complaint, Lizzo alleges that the Raisens had nothing to do with the decision to include the line in “Truth Hurts” and that Rothman’s claim is a baseless “copycat” designed simply to piggy-back off of the Raisens’ claims. Lizzo further alleges that the Raisens more than once conceded their lack of rights to “Truth Hurts” royalties before the song’s delayed, although seemingly overnight, rise to the top.

The lawsuit may have significant effects–both broadly on intellectual property rights in songwriting and narrowly on Lizzo’s career. First, the case raises interesting questions concerning the effect of mere presence during songwriting on true ownership and contribution. The court may find that the Raisens and Rothman gained legitimate titles to “Truth Hurts” merely by their alleged presence during the discussion of the tweet. If so, this decision could significantly affect the ways in which the music industry conducts the songwriting process as artists’ management would be more calculated about who is allowed to be involved.

Second, Lizzo personally has a lot riding on the legitimacy of her claim to the song. In June, Lizzo applied to trademark the phrase “100% that b****” and is already selling merchandise representing it. Furthermore, the song is her greatest hit, and the line is largely representative of her personal brand and the cultural themes that she has begun to represent. Lizzo’s overall message is self-acceptance and female empowerment so conceding her claim to the now-iconic line to “these men” just might make her something less than “100% that b****.”

Mary Easterly

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