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Lizzo goes legal as debate continues over who the “truth” should hurt

By | Published on Thursday 24 October 2019


Following a flurry of online chatter over the authorship of Lizzo’s recent chart-topper ‘Truth Hurts’, the musician has filed a lawsuit seeking court confirmation that three former collaborators do not have a legitimate claim to share in the copyright in said work.

The legal cliché goes “where there’s a hit there’s a writ” and this case in particular proves that point. ‘Truth Hurts’ was originally released in 2017 but only became a hit this year after Lizzo’s third album earned her a more mainstream audience. Some TikTok love and a Netflix sync also helped because, well, this is 2019 and that’s the way things work these days.

However, crucially, it’s only since the track topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the US that a dispute over the creation and ownership of the song has gone public and, as of yesterday, legal. Moreover, according to Lizzo, real name Melissa Jefferson, an earlier dispute over the ownership of the song had been fully resolved, until her former collaborators changed their minds once the record had achieved hit status.

Jefferson’s core dispute is with record producers Justin and Jeremiah Raisen over the first line of ‘Truth Hurts’, which goes “I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that bitch”. The producers went public about said dispute via an Instagram post earlier this month in which they explained how that lyric originally appeared in another unreleased Lizzo demo track called ‘Healthy’, which was created at their studio in April 2017.

The producers’ post argued that they were co-writers of ‘Healthy’ and – given that song’s stand-out lyric was then copied into ‘Truth Hurts’ – they should also have a co-write credit and copyright share in the latter work. They then revealed that they’d been seeking that credit and copyright share for the last two years, adding “[we] were shut down every time”.

They then insisted that “coming forward publicly … seems to be the only way at this point in relieving some of our emotional distress caused by this”.

The Raisens also referenced in their Instagram post an earlier dispute between Jefferson and British singer Mina Lioness, who previously noted that she tweeted the “DNA test/100% bitch” line all the way back in February 2017, before ‘Truth Hurts’ was written.

Aware of Lioness’s claims, Jefferson previously insisted that she never saw that tweet and was instead influenced by an Instagram meme when writing both ‘Healthy’ and ‘Truth Hurts’. Lioness then had another moan about her having said the line first in August this year after learning that Jefferson was seeking to trademark the phrase “100% that bitch”.

Capitalising on all that, the Raisens wrote in their Instagram post: “Shout out to the singer Mina Lioness for tweeting ‘I just did a DNA test turns out I’m 100% that bitch’. A meme of that came up in our writing session and inspired the lyric and melody we wrote together. If … Lizzo’s team decide to settle this dispute with us, we would like to share some of the proceeds with Mina for her influence on ‘Healthy'”.

But, Jefferson’s new lawsuit claims, she and her team had already settled this dispute with the Raisens months before ‘Truth Hurts’ topped the US charts, with the producers conceding that they did not have a legitimate claim to either a co-write credit or a share of the copyright in the song. Because, Jefferson says, although ‘Healthy’ was written in the producers’ studio, they were not involved in the creation or musical delivery on the “100% that bitch” lyric.

Yesterday’s lawsuit states: “The Raisens did not write any part of the material in question; they did not come up with the idea of including the lyric in the unreleased demo; they did not help Lizzo decide how to sing the lyric in the unreleased demo; and they do not co-own that work”.

Noting that the producers themselves have publicly stated that the inspiration for the disputed lyric was “a 2017 tweet that became a meme”, the lawsuit adds: “That meme resonated with Lizzo and she decided to sing it in the demo”.

Of course that does confirm that Jefferson now accepts that Lioness’s tweet was indeed the original influence for the disputed lyric, which might be why the British musician seems to now have an official credit as a co-writer on ‘Truth Hurts’.

But, Jefferson insists, the Raisens had no involvement whatsoever in the development of that tweet/meme into a lyric, other than owning the studio where the process occurred. And, more importantly, the lawsuit claims, the Raisens themselves previously admitted that fact, after initially making and them rescinding a claim to co-ownership of ‘Truth Hurts’.

The lawsuit says that, after learning that the Raisens were seeking a slice of the ‘Truth Hurts’ copyright, Jefferson’s reps sent a formal letter rejecting that claim, and then the musician herself did the same in a phone call to Justin Raisen in April this year.

“During that call”, the lawsuit claims, “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'”.

According to the lawsuit, the Raisens’ publisher Kobalt then confirmed that any claims to co-ownership of the ‘Truth Hurts’ copyright had been dropped. These various confirmations, it adds, allowed Jefferson’s team to finalise a sync deal for the track to be featured in the Netflix film ‘Someone Great’, copyright ownership disputes often making it impossible to directly license a song for synchronisation.

Even after that, the lawsuit insists, further correspondence between Jefferson’s team and reps for the Raisens confirmed that the latter were now not making any claim to the ‘Truth Hurts’ copyright. This included an exchange of emails when the Raisens somehow popped up as co-writers of the song in the database of collecting society ASCAP, and another email in early August after rumours circulated that Justin Raisen was still claiming a percentage of the work.

Then, “on 4 Sep 2019, after ‘Truth Hurts’ hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, the Raisens’ publisher notified the co-owners of ‘Truth Hurts’ that the Raisens were ‘reinstating their claims’ to own 20% of that song. The Raisens and their representatives provided no explanation for the Raisens’ purported and invalid backtracking. Upon information and belief, the Raisens have purported to ‘reinstate’ their claims only because of the song’s recent success”.

After that, of course, the Instagram post followed. The brothers, Jefferson’s lawsuit alleges, “commenced an intentionally misleading social media campaign where they falsely claimed to be writers of the song and threatened to expand their intentionally misleading campaign to traditional media and newspaper outlets such as the New York Times; all as part of their effort through duress and intimidation to try and compel Lizzo to comply with their unreasonable demands to give them a 20% interest in a song that they did not write”.

Which pretty much brings us to now. Except what about the other Justin? Did I mention there was another Justin? That’ll be Justin ‘Yves’ Rothman. He, you see, was also in the house on the day that the demo track ‘Healthy’ was written.

“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”, the lawsuit states.

But now Rothman is also seeking a cut of the action. Because, Jefferson’s lawsuit alleges, he “decided that he too should lodge a claim to ‘Truth Hurts’ on the ill-founded theory that if Lizzo acceded to the Raisens’ threatening demands, she might accede to a demand from Rothman too”. Well, worth a try, isn’t it?

Concluding, Jefferson’s lawsuit asks the courts to confirm that neither the Raisens nor Rothman have any legitimate claim to be co-writers or co-owners of ‘Truth Hurts’, and are therefore not due any of the money the track has generated. The musician also wants her legal costs covered and any “other and further relief as the court may deem proper”.

With the lawsuit filed, Jefferson posted her own update to Instagram. She says: “As I’ve shared before, in 2017, while working on a demo, I saw a meme that resonated with me, a meme that made me feel like 100% that bitch. I sang that line in the demo, and I later used that line in ‘Truth Hurts’. The men who now claim a piece of ‘Truth Hurts’ did not help me write any part of the song. They had nothing to do with the line or how I chose to sing it”.

“There was no one in the room when I wrote ‘Truth Hurts’, except me, [producer] Ricky Reed, and my tears. That song is my life, and its words are my truth”, she adds.

Formally acknowledging the indirect influence of Lioness’s tweet, she then says: “I later learned that a tweet inspired the meme. The creator of the tweet is the person I’m sharing my success with. Not these men. Period”.

It now remains to be seen how the Raisens and Rothman respond, and whether they do so via countersuit or yet another Instagram post.