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Lizzo collaborators hit back in Truth Hurts copyright dispute

By | Published on Monday 2 March 2020


The three songwriters who claim that they helped create Lizzo hit ‘Truth Hurts’ have hit back at her copyright lawsuit against them. In a new legal filing last week, they said that the dispute centred on Lizzo’s “bad faith” and “unprincipled attempt to deny songwriting and producer credits and royalties” to her former collaborators.

Lizzo, real name Melissa Jefferson, went legal last October after some online chatter about the copyright status of ‘Truth Hurts’. Producers Justin and Jeremiah Raisen had said in an Instagram post that they were uncredited co-writers on that record, because a key lyric in it originated in an earlier unreleased song called ‘Healthy’ which was written in their studio. The shared lyric was “I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that bitch”.

The Raisen brothers added that they had been seeking a credit and copyright share in ‘Truth Hurts’ – on the basis it was an evolution of ‘Healthy’ – for two years, but that whenever they approached Jefferson and her people they “were shut down every time”.

In her lawsuit, Jefferson insisted that – while ‘Healthy’ was written in the producers’ studio, and did include the “100% that bitch” lyric – the Raisens themselves “did not write any part of the material in question; they did not come up with the idea of including the lyric in ‘Healthy’; they did not help Lizzo decide how to sing the lyric in the unreleased demo; and they do not co-own that work”.

She also claimed that – far from her shutting down any conversations with the producers over the ownership of the ‘Truth Hurts’ copyright – there had been plenty of conversations about that issue, with the Raisens agreeing that they did not have a claim.

Citing a phone call between Jefferson and Justin Raisen in early 2019, the lawsuit claimed that: “During that call Justin Raisen acknowledged that neither he nor his brother had anything to do with the material through which they had claimed their purported share. That same day, after Justin Raisen made his concession, the Raisens’ manager contacted Lizzo’s lawyer and told her that the Raisens were no longer making any claim to ‘Truth Hurts'”.

The third songwriter involved in the dispute is Justin ‘Yves’ Rothman, who was also present during the recording sessions that resulted in ‘Healthy’. But, Lizzo’s lawsuit stated: “For more than two years, from the September 2017 commercial release of ‘Truth Hurts’ until [this month], Rothman never once contended that he was entitled to any share of ‘Truth Hurts’, that he had any rights in and to the unreleased demo, or that ‘Truth Hurts’ supposedly ‘infringed’ any of his purported rights”.

But in a lengthy legal filing lodged with the court last week, the Raisens and Rothman dispute many of the claims in Jefferson’s lawsuit, before presenting their own version of events regarding the April 2017 recording session that resulted in the track ‘Healthy’.

They insist that they had done much more prep before that session than Jefferson herself, or another collaborator that also participated called Jesse Saint John, who does have a co-write credit on ‘Truth Hurts’.

They then state: “While the group were collaborating on the lyrics and searching the internet for inspiration, Saint John showed the group an internet meme that read, ‘I did a DNA test and found out I’m 100% that bitch’. Jeremiah enthusiastically suggested they add this line to the song”. The Raisens and Rothman then, they claim, evolved the instrumental they had already prepared so that it would work with the evolving lyrics.

At the end of the recording session, the countersuit alleges, Lizzo told Justin of ‘Healthy’ that she and producer Ricky Reed “have been trying to do something like this for a while”. Moreover, the lawsuit reckons, “at the end of the five-hour session, Justin, Jeremiah, [Rothman], Saint John and Lizzo had each contributed inseparable and interdependent non-trivial amounts of creative, original, and intellectual expression to create ‘Healthy’ and a second song ‘Gorgeous’, with the intent that their creative contributions be combined”.

A second recording session then apparently took place to further evolve ‘Healthy’ based on feedback from the aforementioned Reed. Just Jefferson and the Raisens attended the second session, after which the reworked track was sent to Jefferson and Saint John.

Some email correspondence then followed, but ultimately Jefferson’s people stop replying to the producers whenever they asked if and when ‘Healthy’ might be released.

Then “on 19 Sep 2017, Lizzo released ‘Truth Hurts’ crediting herself, Reed, [producer Steven Cheung aka] Tele and Saint John as writers, and Reed and Tele as producers, but not crediting counterclaimants at all. On information and belief, Saint John’s only participation in the creation of ‘Truth Hurts’ was at the 11 Apr 2017 songwriting and recording session during which he collaborated with counterclaimants and Lizzo”.

“After the 19 Sep 2017 release of ‘Truth Hurts'”, the lawsuit goes on, “Justin Raisen received congratulations from people who had heard ‘Healthy’ and thought that ‘Truth Hurts’ was the final product from that song. Justin listened to ‘Truth Hurts’ and was struck by the substantial similarities between it and ‘Healthy'”.

“He sent his co-manager Ross [Donadio] an email listing some of the similarities and evidence that ‘Truth Hurts’ was derived and copied from ‘Healthy'”, the legal papers continue. “On 28 Sep 2017, Ross reached out to Lizzo’s management and label about the Raisens’ lack of credit on ‘Truth Hurts'”.

The lawsuit then documents the back and forth between the Raisens and Jefferson, including a very different retelling of the phone call between her and Justin Raisen.

It claims that during that phone call “Lizzo admitted to Justin that elements of ‘Truth Hurts’ never would have been created without ‘Healthy’, and admitted that Reed suggested to her that they take elements from ‘Healthy’ for ‘Truth Hurts’, including the “100%” lyric and melody. However, Lizzo also told Justin that she did not want to share any percentage of ‘Truth Hurts’ with the Raisens”.

“In fact”, they then allege, “Lizzo used the call as an opportunity to intimidate Justin into stalling his efforts to pursue the Raisens’ claims. Lizzo warned Justin to be wary of continuing to seek a percentage of ‘Truth Hurts’, because, ‘you know, I’m not trying to have problems with you if you know what I’m saying, like, I could be in a room with someone tomorrow that knows you, you know what I’m saying?”

Far from the matter being resolved, the Raisens argue, the back and forth with Jefferson’s people continued. And when ‘Truth Hurt’s became a late-in-the-day hit thanks to some TikTok and Netflix love, Reed texted Justin to let him know that the track had reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 because “he did not want Justin to hear this first from someone else”. Reed then said that Justin should continue to work with him to find a solution over the ‘Truth Hurts’ copyright dispute.

With all that in mind, the Raisens and Rothman want Jefferson’s lawsuit dismissed, and for the court to confirm that they are co-writers on and co-owners of ‘Truth Hurts’.

Team Lizzo are yet to respond.