The Weeknd escapes copyright lawsuit over 'A Lonely Night' at 9th Circuit

NFL Football - Super Bowl LV Halftime Show - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Kansas City Chiefs - Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida, U.S. - February 7, 2021. The Weeknd performs during the halftime show REUTERS/Eve Edelheit
  • British songwriters had accused R&B star of copying their work
  • 9th Circ affirms not enough evidence to show actionable copying
  • Plaintiffs failed to address song's similarity to Blondie hit

(Reuters) - R&B superstar The Weeknd's song "A Lonely Night" didn't rip off an unreleased song called "I Need To Love," a federal appeals court has ruled.

British songwriters Brian Clover and Scott McCulloch failed to show that The Weeknd or his songwriters had access to their song, or that "A Lonely Night" was similar enough to it to support their copyright infringement claims, a three-judge panel for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in an unsigned Friday opinion.

The Weeknd's attorney Peter Anderson of Davis Wright Tremaine and Universal Music didn't immediately respond to a request for comment; neither did the songwriters' attorney Thomas Orlando of Foran Glennon Palandech Ponzi & Rudloff.

Clover, McCulloch and Billy Smith sued The Weeknd, whose given name is Abel Tesfaye, in Los Angeles federal court in 2019. They said parts of the songs were "practically identical," and that one of The Weeknd's producers had access to their composition through his label Universal Music, which once owned rights to it.

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson ruled for The Weeknd last year.

Clover and McCulloch appealed, reiterating their arguments, but U.S. Circuit Judges Susan Graber, Morgan Christen and John Owens affirmed Friday that the songwriters couldn't show infringement.

Allegations that The Weeknd could have heard Clover and McCulloch's song through Universal Music's "large song catalog" weren't enough to show that the musician had access to it, the appeals court said.

The songs also weren't similar enough to show that their resemblance could have only come from copying. The 9th Circuit said the songwriters' argument was undercut by evidence that both songs were influenced by Blondie's 1979 hit "Heart of Glass."

The case is Clover v. Tesfaye, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 20-55861.

For the songwriters: Thomas Orlando of Foran Glennon Palandech Ponzi & Rudloff.

For The Weeknd: Peter Anderson of Davis Wright Tremaine.

Read more:

The Weeknd sued by British songwriters over 'A Lonely Night'

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com