Copyright infringement cases are increasingly common today, with many musicians being accused of copying the work of other artists. Dua Lipa is the latest pop star to be accused of copyright, as she was hit with two lawsuits in one week over her hit song “Levitating.” The band Artikal Sound System filed the first lawsuit in California on March 1, in which they allege that “Levitating” is copying their 2017 reggae song “Live Your Life.” Not long after, on March 4th, the second lawsuit against Dua Lipa was brought on behalf of L. Russell Brown and Sandy Linzer, the composers of the songs “Wiggle and Giggle All Night” and “Don Diablo.” Dua Lipa is far from the first popular artist to be hit with a copyright infringement suit, however, it’s important to note that there are many elements to a copyright case that can determine whether she is liable for copyright infringement.
Copyright law was created in order to protect original creations while also encouraging the creation of new works. That being said, it’s important to understand that copyright law protects the “expression” of work; however, “ideas” are not protectable under copyright law. The particular lawsuits against Dua Lipa both allege that there is a substantial similarity between the song “Levitating” and the plaintiffs’ work. Substantial similarity claims mean that there doesn’t need to be literal copying in order for there to be a copyright infringement; rather there just needs to be a substantial similarity between the works at issue.
The typical question in such a case is “whether the ordinary observer would notice a substantial similarity.” In addition to proving that there is a substantial similarity between the works, the plaintiffs must also prove whether the defendant had access to the plaintiffs’ works. To be successful in these claims, the plaintiffs are going to have to prove that Dua Lipa copied identifiable protected elements, as that is what constitutes copyright infringement.
Since “Levitating” has remained at the top of the charts since its release in 2020, the song is an easy target for a copyright case. It’s incredibly well-known and catchy, with every radio station playing the song almost on repeat. The song is also commonly used on TikTok, with many members of the app participating in a “viral meme” using a snippet of the song. Given the notoriety of the song, it was easy for plaintiffs to notice similarities between it and their own works. The first lawsuit filed by Artikal Sound System focuses on Dua Lipa’s chorus, whereas the second lawsuit filed by Brown and Linzer focuses on the music used in the verse of “Levitating.”
While it may be easy for the plaintiffs to spot the similarities between their songs and Dua Lipa’s hit song, proving copyright infringement in music is extremely difficult to accomplish. There are so many factors to consider, including the possibility of there being a genuine coincidence between the songs. Joe Bennett, a musicologist from the Berklee College of Music told Rolling Stone: “Coincidental similarity is more common than people think it is. Intentional melodic copying among songwriters is less common than people think it is.” Further, certain genres are more likely to sound similarly given the style required to create specific sounds. Dua Lipa has admitted that she was intentionally trying to create an album with a disco sound to it, and since the plaintiffs in the second lawsuit wrote disco music, the sound similarities make sense.
With the increasing number of pop stars and easy access to mainstream songs, more and more artists are getting hit with copyright infringement. While it may seem like a minor issue to these mega stars who will likely remain successful regardless of whether they copied a song, a victory for plaintiffs who are lesser-known artists is essential for protecting what is rightfully theirs.
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