A federal judge has handed a victory to Lizzo, the Grammy-winning R&B and pop star, in a bitter fight over copyright and songwriting credit in Lizzo’s breakthrough hit, “Truth Hurts.”
The dispute emerged last fall, when two songwriting brothers, Justin and Jeremiah Raisen, said that Lizzo had taken the hook of “Truth Hurts” — a line about the results of a DNA test, which originated in a viral tweet by someone else — from another song, called “Healthy,” that Lizzo wrote with the Raisens months earlier as part of a songwriting session.
With “Truth Hurts” shaping up as a monster hit — it spent a total of seven weeks at No. 1 — and a major Grammy contender, their fight quickly headed to the courts.
Lizzo sought a declaration that the Raisens and another writer, Yves Rothman, had no part in writing “Truth Hurts.” In response, those writers contended that “Truth Hurts” was derived from “Healthy,” and that they are co-owners of “Truth Hurts” and therefore are owed a share of its royalties and profits. Lizzo’s lawyer, Cynthia S. Arato, called that demand “opportunistic and legally bankrupt.”
On Friday, Judge Dolly M. Gee of United States District Court in Los Angeles dismissed the Raisens’ claim, writing in an order that “as a matter of law, a joint author of one copyrightable work does not automatically gain ownership of a derivative work in which the joint author had no hand in creating.”
The judge allowed the Raisens and Rothman to revise their claim, but seemed skeptical given an apparent contradiction in how their side had described the creation of the two songs. In one filing, the judge wrote, the writers’ lawyers had portrayed “Healthy” and “Truth Hurts” as distinct entities, with one borrowing from the other, but elsewhere portrayed the two songs as “part of an ongoing creative process that culminated in a single final product.”
In a statement, a lawyer for the writers, Lawrence Y. Iser, said his side would submit amended counterclaims that addressed the judge’s concerns.