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Post Malone collaborator allowed to proceed with Circles copyright dispute

By | Published on Thursday 22 October 2020

Post Malone

A judge in California has allowed Post Malone collaborator Tyler Armes to proceed with his lawsuit in which he claims co-ownership status on the former’s hit ‘Circles’, but only in relation to the song copyright, not the accompanying recording copyright.

Armes – a songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist and member of Canadian rap-rock outfit Down With Webster – claims that he co-wrote ‘Circles’ during an all-night jamming session with Malone and producer Frank Dukes back in August 2018.

When the track was released he contacted Malone’s manager who allegedly conceded that Armes co-wrote the track, offering him 5% of the copyright. But when Armes pushed for a better deal, his request was rejected, and the songwriter was subsequently denied both a credit on and share in the song.

The Malone side have been trying to get Armes’ case dismissed. One argument they presented was that – although both Malone and Dukes are defendants in Armes’ lawsuit – there are other co-writers on ‘Circles’ who are not party to the litigation. Those co-writers are “necessary and indispensable” to the lawsuit, the Malone side argued, but one of them is Canadian, meaning the Californian court lacks personal jurisdiction.

That seemed like an optimistic argument, not least because Armes is not making any claim over the copyright shares and royalty revenues of those other co-writers. Which is something the judge overseeing the case stresses in his decision to deny Malone’s motion for dismissal.

“Defendants offer no practical explanation for why the court could not ‘accord complete relief among existing parties’, considering that Armes expressly disclaims any attempt to reach the non-party individuals’ shares of the profits”, judge Otis D Wright states.

“Armes alleges he wrote a significant portion of ‘Circles’ with Post and Dukes on 8 Aug 2018, but he admits he does not know who else subsequently worked on the song”, the judge goes on. “Thus, he acknowledges he has no basis to contest the non-party writers’ claims as co-writers or their shares of the profits, whatever those shares may be”.

The judge also notes that Malone has filed his own lawsuit relating to this dispute in the New York courts and none of the other collaborators on the track are directly involved in that litigation either. Therefore, how can he argue their participation is a prerequisite in the Californian case? The judge writes: “[Malone’s] failure to join the alleged co-owners as parties in the [Southern District of New York] action seriously undermines defendants’ argument here”.

However, although Armes’ legal claim in relation to the song rights in ‘Circles’ can proceed, his claims over the separate recording copyright cannot.

The judge goes on: “The court finds that Armes fails to allege his co-authorship of the recording because he does not plead facts showing ‘the most important factor’: that he superintended control over its creation. Specifically, Armes alleges that he made several creative recommendations while Dukes created a recording of Dukes and Post performing the co-written musical composition. These allegations do not establish that Armes exercised control over the creation of the recording”.

Armes does actually have the option of resubmitting his claims regarding the sound recording within fourteen days to deal with the issues raised by the judge. We will see if he does, and – indeed – how Malone and co fight back in the next stage of this copyright dispute.