September 28, 2023

Rick Astley has filed a lawsuit against Yung Gravy over the rapper’s 2022 single “Betty (Get Money).” The song interpolates Astley’s 1987 hit “Never Gonna Give You Up,” and, in the lawsuit, Astley claims that Gravy impersonated his voice without the correct legal authorization. Astley is suing the 26-year-old musician and his collaborators for violating his right of publicity, false endorsement, unfair competition, and more.

“In an effort to capitalize off the immense popularity and goodwill of Mr. Astley, Defendants conspired to include a deliberate and nearly indistinguishable imitation of Mr. Astley’s voice throughout the song,” the lawsuit reads. “The imitation of Mr. Astley’s voice was so successful the public believed it was actually Mr. Astley singing and/or a direct sample.”

The lawsuit, which was filed on Thursday (January 26) in a Los Angeles court, suggests that Yung Gravy and his collaborators had the right to use the underlying musical composition, but not Astley’s voice, meaning they could interpolate the ’80s hit but not sample it. Gravy worked with the producer Popnick to recreate Astley’s voice as closely as possible, which Astley’s team claims constitutes “unauthorized, intentional, theft of his voice for commercial purposes.”

In the complaint, Astley’s lawyers cite the famous 1988 legal battle between the actress Bette Midler and Ford Motor Co., which famously hired a voice actor to impersonate Midler after the company was unable to hire her for a series of commercials. The attorneys argue:

To be clear, again, as the “Bette Midler” court found, more than 30 years ago, in one of the most famous cases in the music business, a license to use the original underlying musical composition does not authorize the stealing of the artist’s voice in the original recording. To use the artist’s voice, the creators of a new recording need a license to copy the actual sounds of the voice from the sound recording, a so-called “sample” license of the actual sounds of the voice from the sound recording. As stated, Defendants absolutely knew that to be the case, as Gravy said he tried but failed for years to obtain a sound recording sample license. So, instead, they resorted to theft of Mr. Astley’s voice without a license and without agreement.

Astley is represented by Richard S. Busch, the lawyer who helped the family of Marvin Gaye win a landmark copyright infringement case against Robin Thicke, Pharrell, and T.I. over the song “Blurred Lines.” In a statement shared with Pitchfork, Busch said:

Mr. Astley owns his voice. California law is clear since the Bette Midler case more than 30 years ago that nobody has the right to imitate or use it in a new sound recording without his permission, or pass it off as if he did approve the use. We set out the facts here in great detail in the Complaint, and also set out what the Defendants admitted to themselves. We look forward to now litigating the case on behalf of Mr. Astley.

Pitchfork has also reached out to representatives for Yung Gravy for comment.

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