Rick Astley is suing Yung Gravy over “nearly indistinguishable imitation” of his voice
“A license to use the original underlying musical composition does not authorise the stealing of the artist’s voice in the original recording.”
RIck Astley – Never Gonna Give You Up / Press
Popstar Rick Astley is suing rapper Yung Gravy for allegedly violating his right of publicity, false endorsement and unfair competition for “flagrantly” impersonating his vocal lines in his song Betty (Get Money).
According to Billboard, Yung Gravy and Universal Music obtained the rights to recreate the music and lyrics from Astley’s 1987 hit Never Gonna Give You Up – which are not owned by Astley – in a process called interpolating. This refers to performing and recording a melody or portions of a melody from a previously recorded song, rather than sampling it.
However, in obtaining these rights, this purportedly meant the American rapper – real name Matthew Hauri – was not allowed to sample the original song and, according to Astley’s lawyers, was also not allowed to directly mimic the exact sounds of the original.
The lawsuit refers to the start of Yung Gravy’s Betty (Get Money), which currently has 33 million views on YouTube, claiming that Hauri’s collaborating singer, Popnick, tries to impersonate Astley’s signature voice.
In court documents, Astley’s legal team have written, “Defendants […] conspired to include a deliberate and nearly indistinguishable imitation of Mr. Astley’s voice throughout the song. The public could not tell the difference. The imitation of Mr. Astley’s voice was so successful the public believed it was actually Mr. Astley singing.
“A license to use the original underlying musical composition does not authorise the stealing of the artist’s voice in the original recording. So, instead, they resorted to [the] theft of Mr. Astley’s voice without a license and without agreement.”
They have also mentioned that the allegedly unlawful mimicking of Astley’s voice has caused the singer “immense damage”.
Astley is working with renowned music lawyer Richard Busch on this case. Busch famously helped the family of Marvin Gaye win a copyright case over Pharrell Williams’ and Robin Thicke’s song Blurred Lines. In a statement to Billboard, 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 without his permission.”
It’s not the first time that copyright issues have been flagged around the track’s use of Never Gonna Give You Up, however. While speaking to Billboard in November 2022, Hauri claimed that Astley had approved the song, which his lawyers claim as “false”.
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