Two songwriters who sued Benny Blanco, Halsey, Khalid and Ed Sheeran for copyright infringement over their 2018 hit “Eastside” have suddenly dropped the lawsuit. Blanco’s lawyer tells Billboard the accusations were “baseless” and “never should have been made.”
Konstantine Lois and Shane Williams, who perform under the name American XO, accused Blanco and the other stars of ripping off a 2015 song called “Loveless,” claiming that a core riff in each song involved “identical” musical features.
But in a motion filed Tuesday in California federal court, attorneys for Lois and Williams voluntarily agreed to dismiss the case. The filing said each side would pay their own legal bills; it gave no indication that any money would exchange hands or songwriting credits would be amended.
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In a statement to Billboard, Blanco’s attorney Donald S. Zakarin said the accusers had unilaterally dropped the case because they were “certain to lose” and would have faced the prospect of repaying the stars’ legal bills if they had continued to litigate such a case.
“While we are grateful that plaintiffs belatedly recognized they had no viable claim of copyright infringement, it is unfortunate that our clients … ever had to deal with an infringement accusation that never should have been made,” Zakarin said. “Like many of the infringement cases we have been seeing in the last few years, baseless infringement claims come at a cost, not merely to our clients in defending but to the public because they will inevitably chill creativity.”
In their own statement to Billboard, Lois and Williams said they had dropped the lawsuit because they lacked “the financial resources or insurance to continue the fight.” But they noted that the judge had actually sided with them in an early-stage ruling, allowing their case to move forward.
“The obvious similarities in the songs created genuine concerns that our work was copied. Before filing the lawsuit, we hired a respected musicologist who shared those concerns,” Lois and Williams wrote. “We continue to believe that our concerns are not without merit, however, simply put, continuing forward with the case would be too costly, challenging, and risky for us.”
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Released in July 2018, “Eastside” was the debut single for Blanco (born Benjamin Joseph Levin), who had previously spent years writing and producing major hits for other stars under the tutelage of producer Dr. Luke. The song, co-written and performed by Blanco, Halsey and Khalid and co-written by Sheeran and Nathan Perez, reached No. 8 on the Hot 100 and eventually spent 52 weeks on the chart.
But in May 2021, Lois and Williams claimed that Blanco’s hit was essentially lifted directly from their “Loveless.” In a complaint filed in California federal court, attorneys for the pair dove deep into the alleged musical similarities between the two tracks.
“Both the Loveless riff and the Eastside riff comprise of identical two note dyads of identical note intervals played over identical beats,” attorney Matthew Higbee wrote at the time. “Both riffs are played on guitar and require identical finger positions. Both riffs contain an identical slide of the fingers up the neck of the guitar between the second and third dyad.”
The duo claimed the allegedly stolen riff played a particularly important role in “Eastside,” because it was “repeated on a loop for the entirety of the song.”
Until very recently, the case showed no signs of an imminent settlement. As is typical in such lawsuits, the two sides were in the midst of exchanging reports by musicologists about whether the songs were similar enough to constitute copyright infringement. Both sides then planned to file motions seeking so-called summary judgment – a final ruling without a trial.
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But last month, attorneys for Lois and Williams filed notice with the judge that their chosen musicologist had suddenly become unavailable to continue working on the case, and that they would need an extension of deadlines to find a replacement.
Faced with that request, attorneys for Blanco and the other pop stars quickly argued that sudden disappearance raised “serious concerns.” They said there might be an “innocent explanation,” but suggested that it also might be because Lois and Williams couldn’t find an expert who would testify that “Eastside” had infringed “Loveless.”
“If plaintiffs’ problems are the product of the weakness of their claims and their consequent inability to secure an expert who is willing to attempt a rebuttal of [the defendants’ expert], then they should dismiss this case now with prejudice instead of unnecessarily imposing on the time of this court and increasing the costs of defendants,” Zakarin wrote the judge on Feb. 13.
Two days later, the judge denied the request for an extension. Two weeks after that, Lois and Williams dismissed their case with prejudice.
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