Whitney Houston Movie Lawsuit, Kanye Song Dispute, Cam’ron Photo Ruling & More Legal News

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: Sony Music files a lawsuit claiming the Whitney Houston biopic didn’t pay to use her songs; one of Kanye’s new songs is pulled from streamers after accusations of copyright infringement; a federal judge orders Cam’ron to pay a photographer for using an image of himself; and much more.

THE BIG STORY: Was the Whitney Houston Movie Out of Sync?

If you’re going to make a musical biopic, it’s important to sign a sync licensing deal. But it doesn’t mean much if you don’t actually pay for it.

In a lawsuit filed last week, Sony Music Entertainment accused the producers of the 2022 biopic Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody of doing exactly that. More than a year after the film was released, the label says it hasn’t been paid a dime for the use of more than 20 songs like “I Will Always Love You.”

Musical biopics are big business – 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody earned more $900 million at the box office and Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 Elvis made $288 million. But as we noted in this space a few weeks back, they pose a unique challenge that isn’t present for a run-of-the-mill true-life movie: you essentially must secure the ability to play the music of the star in question.

In last week’s lawsuit, Sony made a point to note that dynamic: “Unlike other types of films, musical biopics by their nature require use of the subject musician’s music, as it is nearly impossible to explain the importance of a musician’s creative genius or unique style and talent without the use of the musician’s music.”

So then what happened with Wanna Dance? Go read the full story here, including access to the actual lawsuit filed by Sony Music.

Other top stories this week…

KANYE SONG PULLED – Kanye West’s track “Good (Don’t Die)” was removed from Spotify and other platforms after the estate of legendary singer Donna Summer claimed that the song featured an unlicensed interpolation of her 1977 hit “I Feel Love.” Ye’s album itself, Vultures 1, was also briefly removed from digital platforms over a dispute with the original distributor – but still debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

CAM’RON’S CAMERA WRONG – A federal judge ordered Cam’ron to pay more than $50,000 to a photographer for using her photo – a famous shot of the Dipset rapper wearing a fuzzy pink coat and hat while holding a matching flip phone – on a slew of merchandise without permission. He’s just the latest in a long list of celebrities who have faced costly legal actions for using copyrighted images of themselves without paying the photographer.

CASE DISMISSED – Roddy Ricch won a ruling from a federal judge dismissing a copyright lawsuit that claimed the rapper stole key elements of his chart-topping 2019 song “The Box” from a 1975 song track called “Come On Down.” The judge said that Ricch’s song had “significant dissimilarities” from the earlier tune – a common sample in the hip-hop world – and that “no reasonable jury” would call Ricch an infringer.

RUSSELL SIMMONS ACCUSATIONS – The embattled music mogul was hit with a new lawsuit over allegations that he raped a former Def Jam video producer in the 1990s, the latest in a long list of public abuse allegations Simmons. Days later, the Def Jam founder was named in a second civil case – this time by a previous abuse accuser (former record executive Drew Dixon) over claims that Simmons defamed her by suggesting during a December interview that she was lying about her accusations against him.

SUSPICIOUS MINDERS? – Priscilla Presley is facing a lawsuit that claims she illegally turned her back on a former business partner named Brigitte Kruse, who claims she helped Elvis Presley’s ex-wife “dig herself out of impending financial ruin” and played a key role in getting the recent Priscilla movie made. Presley’s lawyer tell a different story, saying Priscilla rightly split with Kruse after discovering serious financial wrongdoing.

DANCE DANCE RESOLUTION – Fortnite owner Epic Games reached an agreement to end a lawsuit filed by celebrity choreographer Kyle Hanagami that claimed the gamemaker turned his dance moves into a lucrative “emote” that Fortnite players could buy. The deal with Hanagami, who has worked with BTS, Jennifer Lopez, Justin Bieber and Britney Spears, came months after a federal appeals court issued a first-of-its-kind ruling that allowed the case to move forward toward a scheduled trial this spring.

GLORIA TREVI CASE EXPLAINED – Mexican pop star Gloria Trevi is facing a complex legal battle over renewed allegations of serious sexual wrongdoing involving her former manager Sergio Andrade – claims she strongly denies by arguing that she, too, was a victim of his abuse. To get you up to speed, Billboard senior editor Griselda Flores put together a deep-dive timeline of Trevi’s legal woes – go read it here.

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