Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye’s Copyright Infringement Ruling Upheld on Appeal

On October 8, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld summary judgment entered in favor of singer Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye. The summary judgment entered in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California, concerned a copyright infringement claim alleging that The Weeknd’s song A Lonely Night copied Brian Clover and Scott McCulloch’s song I Need to Love.

Clover and McCulloch sued The Weeknd in 2019 alleging that parts of A Lonely Night were “practically identical” to I Need to Love. They further alleged that one of The Weeknd’s producers had access to I Need to Love because Universal Music, The Weeknd’s record label, once owned the rights to their song. I Need to Love was written and recorded in the United Kingdom in 2004 and 2005. A Lonely Night was composed and recorded in 2016 in West Hollywood, California.

Clover and McCulloch did not present direct evidence of access to I Need to Love in the lower court. Rather, they presented circumstantial evidence that The Weeknd and his producers may have heard I Need to Love through a large song catalog offered by Universal Music. The two further admitted that I Need to Love “was never released to the public or generated any royalties.” The three judge panel for the Ninth Circuit also found that, as to the striking similarity requirement necessary in copyright infringement claims, Clover and McCulloch failed “to show the two works are so similar that their resemblance can be explained only by ‘copying rather than. . . coincidence, independent creation, or prior common source.'” The ruling points out that Clover and McCulloch did not adequately address the prior common source for the two songs at issue: Blondie’s song Heart of Glass, released in 1979. As such, the panel ruled that Clover and McCulloch failed to raise a genuine dispute as to copying.

Additional Reading

Music copyright, Courthouse News Service (October 11, 2021)

Brian Clover v. Abel Tesfaye, No. 20-55861 (9th Cir. 2021)

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