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Can My Co-Writer Copy from Our Joint Work?

September 2, 2020

Stephen Carlisle

This is a topic that does not get analyzed very often, and few Courts have taken up the subject. But the case of Jefferson v. Raisen has brought the issue to the forefront, in a battle over who are the writers of the Grammy winning hit “Truth Hurts.”

On one side is Melissa Jefferson, professionally known as “Lizzo.” She claims to be one of the writers of the song “Truth Hurts.” She has sued songwriters Justin Raisen and others for declaratory decree that they are not co-writers of “Truth Hurts.” For their side, the Raisen parties claim that they wrote a song titled “Healthy” with Lizzo, and that elements of “Healthy” were copied in “Truth Hurts.” 1

According to Ashley Cullins at The Hollywood Reporter-Esq.:

“[Lizzo] maintains the only significant thing to come out of that session was the line “I just did a DNA test turns out I’m a hundred percent that bitch” which was inspired by a viral tweet that another songwriter present (Jesse Saint John Geller, who isn’t part of the litigation) brought up to the group. After news of the dispute broke, Lizzo ripped the brothers for claiming they helped her write the song, but gave the woman who wrote that tweet songwriting credit.” 2

The Defendants, angered by this public rebuke, set up a songwriting challenge with the performance rights organization ASCAP. 3

But according to the Judge, none of the allegations of copying matter. She rules that even if Lizzo did copy elements of “Healthy” into “Truth Hurts,” this does not make the Defendants co-authors of “Truth Hurts.”

“[A]s 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.” Citing to the 9th Circuit case of Ashton-Tate Corp. v. Ross. 4

Read more here.  

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