Left foot, right foot, litigating
I have bad news for all of my sugar boos out there. Dua Lipa has been hit with another lawsuit claiming that she is a filthy plagiarist who owes money from the success of her hit “Levitating” to some random haters you’ve never heard of. But how did we get here? Why are not one but two different parties claiming to have written the earworm-y hook? And is this one TikTok I saw going to blow this whole thing up? Let’s investigate.
March 27, 2020
In a case of horrible timing, Dua Lipa released her second album, Future Nostalgia, about two weeks after everyone in the U.S. started really freaking out about the novel coronavirus. “Levitating” is not yet a single, and would not be for months. Perhaps the people claiming that she ripped them off are at this point busy wiping down their groceries and do not have time to listen to an entire Dua Lipa album all the way through.
October 1, 2020
A remix of “Levitating” featuring DaBaby is released as the fifth single from Future Nostalgia. It becomes massively popular on TikTok and terrestrial radio, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Not to victim blame, but if I had personally written a song that sounded a lot like a massive worldwide hit, I think by now it would have come to my attention. Instead, the two parties now suing the pop star remain silent.
The Entirety of 2021
The “Levitating” remix stays on the Billboard chart for 41 weeks, and becomes the no. 1 song of 2021. Still not a dula peep from any disgruntled musicians.
March 1, 2022
Okay, now we’re cooking with gas. Earlier this month a Florida reggae band called Artikal Sound System (ASS, if you will) filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Lipa and Warner Records, claiming that “Levitating” is basically a carbon copy of their 2017 song “Live Your Life.” You can listen to that song below.
It does sound pretty similar, but I have a feeling there’s more to this story. For one thing, I refuse to trust the veracity of any claim made by a reggae band that looks like this:
March 4, 2022
Mere days after ASS filed their suit, songwriters L. Russell Brown and Sandy Linzer filed their own complaint, claiming that Lipa actually stole the melody for “Levitating” from their songs “Wiggle and Giggle All Night” from 1979 and “Don Diablo” from 1980. If you squint your ears you can hear where they might have gotten that idea.
“Defendants have levitated away plaintiffs’ intellectual property,” Brown and Linzer’s lawyers wrote in their complaint. “Plaintiffs bring suit so that defendants cannot wiggle out of their willful infringement.” Whether or not a formal legal complaint is the place to showcase your cheeky writing style will be up to the judge to decide.
“In seeking nostalgic inspiration, defendants copied plaintiffs’ creation without attribution,” Brown and Linzer claimed, referring to the fact that Lipa had stated in interviews that the song took inspiration from previous eras of music, and perhaps to the title of her album, Future Nostalgia.
March 5, 2022
This thing is about to get cracked open… or is it? A TikToker named Mathias Morte posted a video addressing Lipa’s legal battle with ASS, noting that it is entirely possible to replace an old SoundCloud upload with a new track while maintaining all of the original stats and comments. Meaning that ASS could have uploaded their song “Live Your Life” just before filing their suit, and claimed that the new version of it had been up since 2017. Sounds like the perfect crime.
However, in a follow-up TikTok, Morte began to doubt his own theory. He found proof that the EP that “Live Your Life” appears on did in fact come out in 2017, but it remains unclear if it is the same version that the band is suing Lipa over. He has bought a physical copy, and is waiting for it to arrive before he makes any new claims.
Well, today we rest. Unless a polka band from Argentina comes out of the woodwork to say that “Levitating” is actually a rip-off of their song from 1952, there’s nothing more going on here. In my mind the most likely outcome is either that the judges will throw these cases out or Lipa will end up giving these people what they want (an undisclosed settlement). At that point we will finally get to have a serious discussion about who owns chord progressions, what counts as intellectual property theft, and why, if anyone should be lawyering up right now, it’s OutKast.