In this week’s Legal Beat, Sean Combs settles a shocking rape case, Shakira resolves tax fraud charges, UMG wins a case over its Spotify stake & more.
Sean “Diddy” Combs attends Day 1 of 2023 Invest Fest at Georgia World Congress Center on August 26, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images
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: Sean “Diddy” Combs is accused of rape amid an ongoing wave of music industry sexual abuse lawsuits; Shakira settles her $15 million tax evasion case on the eve of trial; UMG defeats a lawsuit filed by artists over its lucrative ownership stake in Spotify; and more.
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THE BIG STORY: Diddy Sued As Music #MeToo Wave Continues
Following a string of abuse cases against powerful men in the music industry, Sean “Diddy” Combs was sued by R&B singer and longtime romantic partner Cassie over allegations of assault and rape — and then settled the case just a day later.
In a graphic complaint, attorneys for Cassie (full name Casandra Ventura) claimed she “endured over a decade of his violent behavior and disturbed demands,” including repeated physical beatings and forcing her to “engage in sex acts with male sex workers” while he masturbated. Near the end of their relationship, Ventura claimed that Combs “forced her into her home and raped her while she repeatedly said ‘no’ and tried to push him away.”
Combs immediately denied the allegations as “offensive and outrageous.” He claimed Cassie had spent months demanding $30 million to prevent her from writing a tell-all book, a request he had “unequivocally rejected as blatant blackmail.”
Read the full story on the lawsuit here.
Just a day after it was filed, Combs and Ventura announced that they had reached a settlement to resolve the case. Though quick settlements can happen in any type of lawsuit, it’s pretty unusual to see a case with such extensive and explosive allegations end just 24 hours after it was filed in court. “I wish Cassie and her family all the best,” Combs said in a statement. “Love.”
Both sides quickly put their spin on the settlement. A former staffer at Cassie’s law firm sent out a statement arguing that the quick resolution was “practically unheard of” and suggesting it showed the “evidence against Mr. Combs was overwhelming.” Combs’ lawyer, Ben Brafman, put out his own statement reiterating that a settlement — “especially in 2023” — was “in no way an admission of wrongdoing.”
Read the full story on the settlement here.
The case against Combs is the most explosive sign yet that, six years after the start of the #MeToo movement, the music industry is currently experiencing something of a second iteration.
Sexual assault lawsuits were filed earlier this month against both former Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow and label exec Antonio “L.A.” Reid, and in October longtime publishing exec Kenny MacPherson was sued for sexual harassment. Before that, sexual misconduct allegations were leveled at late Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun; Backstreet Boys member Nick Carter; singer Jason Derulo; and ex-Kobalt exec Sam Taylor.
Many of the recent cases have been filed under New York’s Adult Survivors Act, a statute that created a limited window for alleged survivors to take legal action over years-old accusations that would typically be barred under the statute of limitations. With that look-back period set to end on Thursday (Nov. 23), more cases could be coming in the next few days. Stay tuned…
Other top stories this week…
UMG WINS CASE OVER SPOTIFY STAKE – A federal judge dismissed a class action against Universal Music Group that challenged the fairness of its 2008 purchase of shares in Spotify. The case, filed by ’90s hip-hop duo Black Sheep, accused the company of taking lower-than-market royalty rates in return for a chunk of equity that’s now worth hundreds of millions. But the judge ruled that such a maneuver — even if proven true — wouldn’t have violated UMG’s contract with its artists.
A$AP ROCKY TO STAND TRIAL – A Los Angeles judge ruled that there was enough evidence for A$AP Rocky to stand trial on felony charges that he fired a gun at a former friend and collaborator outside a Hollywood hotel in 2021. The 35-year-old hip-hop star’s lawyer vowed that “Rocky is going to be vindicated when all this is said and done, without question.”
SHAKIRA SETTLES TAX CASE – The Columbian superstar agreed to a deal with Spanish authorities to settle her $15 million criminal tax fraud case that could have resulted in a significant prison sentence for the singer. After maintaining her innocence for five years, Shakira settled on the first day of a closely-watched trial: “I need to move past the stress and emotional toll of the last several years and focus on the things I love,” she said.
ROD WAVE MERCH CRACKDOWN – The rapper won a federal court order empowering law enforcement to seize bootleg merchandise sold outside his Charlotte, N.C., concert, regardless of who was selling it. He’s the latest artist to file such a case to protect ever-more-valuable merch revenue following Metallica, SZA, Post Malone and many others.
MF DOOM NOTEBOOK BATTLE – Attorneys for Eothen “Egon” Alapatt fired back at a lawsuit that claims he stole dozens of private notebooks belonging to the late hip-hop legend MF Doom, calling the case “baseless and libelous” and telling his side of the disputed story.
“THE DAMAGE WILL BE DONE” – Universal Music Group asked for a preliminary injunction that would immediately block artificial intelligence company Anthropic PBC from using copyrighted music to train future AI models while their high-profile case plays out in court.
DIDDY TEQUILA CASE – In a separate legal battle involving Diddy, a New York appeals court hit pause on his lawsuit against alcohol giant Diageo that accused the company of racism and failing to adequately support his DeLeon brand of tequila. The court stayed the case while Diageo appeals a key ruling about how the dispute should proceed.
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