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 court ruling on R. Kelly’s music royalties offers some answers but raises new questions; 50 Cent reaches a deal to end his lawsuit over alleged insinuations that he had penis surgery; Donald Glover defeats a copyright lawsuit over the Childish Gambino hit “This Is America”; Ohio cops sue Afroman for using their images after they raided his home with guns drawn; and much more.
THE BIG STORY: Who Gets R. Kelly’s Record Royalties?
Twice convicted on allegations of sexual abuse and facing decades in federal prison, R. Kelly owes a lot of money to a lot of people. Luckily, a pile of recording royalties are sitting in his account at Sony Music. But who gets first access to them?
In a ruling last week, the Illinois Supreme Court said first dibs belong to Heather Williams, an abuse victim who won a $4 million civil judgment against Kelly in 2020. For procedural reasons, the appeals court said Williams should take priority over Midwest Commercial Funding, a Chicago landlord that’s owed $3.5 million from Kelly over unpaid rent at a local studio space. The court upheld an earlier ruling that had ordered Sony to hand over “any funds currently in Kelly’s royalty account” to Williams, and keep giving her his incoming royalties until the judgment was paid off.
While state high court’s decision offered some important clarity – the Sony account had been frozen for years while the case played out across the appeals courts – it left plenty of big questions unanswered.
-According to the decision, Kelly’s account held $1.5 million in 2020 when Williams initially demanded that Sony hand it over. But how much more money has been accrued since then? And how much is coming in each year? Sony declined to comment on the situation when asked.
-What about Kelly’s criminal victims? Federal judges in New York and Illinois have ordered him to pay more than $500,000 in restitution and fines after he was convicted on sex trafficking, racketeering and child porn charges. Should those victims also get access to the record royalties? Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn and Chicago both declined to comment on the situation.
-Kelly’s lawyers are currently trying to overturn the underlying $4 million judgment for Williams, arguing it was handed down when the singer was stuck in prison and that he was not afforded a proper chance to fight back. Those efforts face an uphill climb, but at the very least could delay any final payments.
-Finally, it’s important to note that last week’s ruling was limited to his record royalties. The extent to which Kelly is still earning money from his compositional rights, and whether he would be able sell those rights for anything other than “fire sale” prices, is an even murkier situation.
For a deeper breakdown of the situation, including access to the Illinois Supreme Court’s entire written decision, go read our full story here.
Other top stories this week…
“ENTIRELY DIFFERENT” – A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit accusing Donald Glover of ripping off his chart-topping Childish Gambino hit “This Is America” from an earlier song by a rapper named Kidd Wes called “Made In America.” The judge said the lyrics were “entirely different” and that the accuser failed to satisfy even basic procedural requirements.
CASE CLOSED FOR 50 CENT – The rapper reached a settlement to end a lawsuit in which he accused a Miami medical spa of exploiting an innocent photo of him to imply that he was a client — and, more startlingly, to falsely suggest that 50 had received penile enhancement surgery as part of his work. No word on the terms of the agreement.
COPS SUE AFROMAN AFTER RAID – The rapper Afroman was hit with a bizarre civil lawsuit from several Ohio police officers, who claim he’s caused them “emotional distress” by using their images after they staged a guns-drawn raid on his home last year that resulted in no criminal charges. The rapper says the case is baseless and he’s planning to counter-sue over damage done to his home.
NFT SETTLEMENT FOR 3LAU – Citing an imminent settlement, a Manhattan federal judge dismissed a lawsuit claiming that the DJ and producer 3LAU refused to properly share the earnings from an $11.7 million NFT auction with a musical collaborator named Luna Aura.
SONY SUES TIKTOK CREATOR – Sony Music Entertainment relaunched a lawsuit against Trefuego (real name Dantreal Daevon Clark-Rainbolt), the creator of a popular TikTok song called “90mh,” over allegations that he prominently sampled a 1986 track by Japanese composer Toshifumi Hinata without “paying a cent.”
NO CHARGES FOR NICK LACHEY – The 98 Degrees singer avoided criminal charges in Los Angeles in connection with a paparazzi run-in last March, in which he allegedly reached into a photog’s car and attempted to grab her phone. Under a deal with prosecutors, Lachey agreed to attend anger management classes and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.