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Rap Lyrics Go On Trial In Atlanta, Music #MeToo Cases, R. Kelly Sues Feds & More Top Legal News

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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: An Atlanta judge rules that Young Thug’s rap lyrics can be used as evidence in his upcoming gang trial; two new sexual assault cases are filed against powerful music executives; R. Kelly sues the federal prison system for allegedly leaking private info to a gossip blogger; and more.

THE BIG STORY: Rap Lyrics Headed To Trial

After years of reporting on “rap on trial” — the controversial use of lyrics as criminal evidence against the artist who wrote them — it was remarkable to watch last week as prosecutors from America’s rap capital battled with defense attorneys for one of hip-hop’s biggest stars over that very subject in open court.

Is Atlanta’s district attorney “targeting the right to free speech” by using Young Thug’s lyrics in the upcoming gang trial? Or are prosecutors merely pointing out glaring admissions of criminal activity that “just happen to come in the form of lyrics”?

In the end, as they often do when it comes to lyrics, the judge sided with prosecutors: “They’re not prosecuting your clients because of the songs they wrote,” said Judge Ural Glanville, speaking to Thug’s lawyer Brian Steel during the hearing. “They’re using the songs to prove other things your clients may have been involved in. I don’t think it’s an attack on free speech.”

For a full recap of the hours-long hearing, go read our full story here. And look out for our upcoming coverage on the YSL trial, which is set to start Nov. 27.

THE OTHER BIG STORY: More Music #MeToo

The music industry saw two new lawsuits last week alleging sexual abuse by powerful men, continuing a wave of such cases filed over the past year.

The first, filed Wednesday (Nov. 8) in New York state court, accused former Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman in 2018. Those are the same allegations that were partially aired four years ago in an explosive discrimination complaint filed by Deborah Dugan, who briefly replaced Portnow as Academy boss after he stepped down in August 2019.

The second lawsuit, filed later that same day in New York federal court, accused legendary industry exec Antonio “L.A.” Reid of sexually assaulting A&R executive Drew Dixon and then derailing her once-promising career when she refused his further advances. Those claims, too, were already public to some extent: Dixon previously accused Reid of harassment in a 2017 article for The New York Times as well as a subsequent documentary.

Over the past year, such accusations have become troublingly common.

Two women are suing Atlantic Records over abuse allegations against late co-founder Ahmet Ertegun; country star Jimmie Allen is facing two sexual assault lawsuits; Backstreet Boys member Nick Carter has been sued by three different women who claim he sexually assaulted them as minors in the 2000s; Kenny MacPherson, the CEO of Hipgnosis Songs Fund’s publishing unit, is facing a lawsuit claiming he subjected an employee at a previous company to an “onslaught of unwanted sexual advances”; a woman is suing singer Jason Derulo for allegedly harassing her and then dropping her from a deal with his Atlantic imprint after she rebuffed him; and Kobalt Music Group is facing claims that it enabled former exec Sam Taylor as he leveraged his position of power to demand sex from a songwriter.

Other top stories this week…

R. KELLY SUES FEDS OVER LEAKS – The disgraced R&B singer filed a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons over allegations that someone at the agency leaked private information about him — including recordings of private phone calls with his girlfriend and lawyers — to social media personality Tasha K, who then shared them with millions of followers. Before you ask: Yes, that’s the same YouTube gossip host that Cardi B successfully sued for defamation last year after Tasha K posted false stories about drug use, STDs and prostitution by the superstar rapper.

LINKIN PARK LITIGATION – The band was hit with a lawsuit over the anniversary re-release of its smash hit 2000 debut album Hybrid Theory, filed by a bassist who says he performed on rare and unreleased recordings that were featured as part of the deluxe box set but has “never been paid a penny.”

OFFSET ASSAULT ACCUSATION – The Migos rapper (real name Kiari Kendrell Cephus) was sued by a security guard who claims he was assaulted two years ago by Offset and YRN Murk after he turned them away from ComplexCon, a cultural festival hosted by Buzzfeed’s Complex Networks.

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