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Billion-Dollar Music Verdict, Adidas Versus Kanye, Steven Tyler Abuse Case & 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: A federal appeals court overturns a $1 billion verdict won by the major labels over internet piracy; Kanye West blasts Adidas for selling “fake Yeezys” while also “suing” him; Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler wins the dismissal of one of his sexual abuse cases; and much more.

THE BIG STORY: Billion-Dollar Piracy Verdict Gone – For Now

One billion dollars – with a “B.” Back in 2019, that’s the massive sum that a federal jury ordered Cox Communications to pay to Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group after concluding that the internet service provider had turned a blind eye to infringement by its users.

Piracy is no longer the existential threat it was once for the music industry. But in the mid-2010s, it was still a big deal — so much so, that music companies began suing ISPs to force them to take action. In 2018, the Big Three filed such a case against Cox, claiming that it had essentially helped its subscribers illegally share more than 10,000 of their copyrighted songs.

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ISPs are usually shielded from lawsuits over infringing conduct by their users, thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its system of so-called safe harbors. But the judge overseeing the case ruled that Cox had forfeited the DMCA’s protections by failing to terminate subscribers who had repeatedly pirated music. Stripped of immunity, Cox was ordered to pay the labels more than $99,000 for every song its users infringed — one of the largest ever awards in an intellectual property lawsuit.

Cox appealed the case, arguing that it was “unprecedented in every way” and would require ISPs to cut off vital internet access based on unproven accusations of piracy. The labels said it was a fair punishment for a company that had allegedly avoided the problem for fear of losing money.

After more than four years of waiting for a ruling (so long that file-sharing has become something of antique topic) a federal appeals court finally weighed in this week — overturning the huge verdict, but leaving Cox still facing the potential for massive damages. Go read the full story to find out more.

Other top stories this week…

IS ADIDAS SUING YE? – Kanye West took to Instagram to blast Adidas for “suing him” at the same time that it was selling “fake Yeezys” to consumers: “Not only are they putting out fake colorways that are non-approved, they’re suing me for $250 million.” So is Adidas really suing him? The answer is … complicated.

MORE DIDDY ALLEGATIONS – Sean Combs was hit with another abuse lawsuit, this time by a producer named Rodney “Lil Rod” Jones Jr. who says the rapper sexually assaulted and harassed him. But the case also includes more bizarre allegations, claiming that Diddy and others participated in a “RICO enterprise” – civil allegations under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a federal law that’s more often used in criminal cases against mobsters and drug cartels. Combs’ lawyer Shawn Holley told Billboard that the claims were “pure fiction” filed by a man “shamelessly looking for an undeserved payday.”

…AND A NEW RESPONSE – Days earlier, Combs also filed his first legal response to one of his earlier abuse cases, in which a woman claims that he “sex trafficked” and “gang raped” her when she was a 17-year-old girl in 2003. In the filing, Combs told a federal court that the allegations are “fictional”; among other things, Diddy’s lawyers said the case was filed so late that it violates his constitutional right to defend himself.

EAGLES’ STOLEN NOTES TRIAL – Don Henley took the stand in an ongoing criminal trial of three memorabilia sellers who prosecutors claim tried to sell stolen draft lyrics to “Hotel California” and other Eagles hits. The accused defendants claim Henley willingly gave the pages to a journalist decades ago, meaning they were never stolen. But in his testimony, the rock legend said he only gave the writer access, not possession: “You know what? It doesn’t matter if I drove a U-Haul truck across country and dumped them at his front door. He had no right to keep them or to sell them.”

STEVEN TYLER RULING – A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit accusing Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in 1975, ruling that she had waited too long to bring her case. Jeanne Bellino sued the rocker in November under New York’s “lookback” law that allows abuse victims to sue over decades-old claims. But the judge ruled that her allegations — forcible kissing and groping — were not covered by the law because they did not present a “serious risk of physical injury.”

NICKELBACK CASE DISMISSED – A federal appeals court rejected a copyright lawsuit that claimed Nickelback ripped off its 2006 hit “Rockstar” from an earlier song called “Rock Star,” ruling that the band can’t be sued simply for using “clichés” and “singing about being a rockstar.”

IDOL PRODUCER SUED AGAIN – Former American Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe was hit with another sexual assault lawsuit, this time by an unidentified woman who claims he forcibly touched her in 2016. Lythgoe was already facing an earlier lawsuit from Paula Abdul over two separate alleged incidents of sexual assault.