Last week, Los Angeles-based composer/producers Suniel Fox and Shyhi Henry Hsiaio (p/k/a Henry Strange) sued R&B artist The Weeknd (aka Abel Makkonen Tesfaye) and his LLC, The Weeknd CO US LLC, in the Central District of California for alleged copyright infringement of their track “Vibeking” on The Weekend’s mega-successful, mega-melancholy track “Call Out My Name.”
The track in question was a standout hit on The Weeknd’s six-track 2018 EP, My Dear Melancholy, a thinly veiled breakup album about the short-lived match between the artist and Selena Gomez. Plaintiffs Fox and Strange allege that the track owes its “atmospheric and melancholic sound” to their instrumental piece “Vibeking,” which they allege that they shared with The Weeknd’s producer Eric White (p/k/a PNDA) in 2015.
Per the complaint, Plaintiffs allege that White sent the track to The Weekend for consideration in April 2015, and that White communicated The Weeknd’s positive feedback on the track back to Plaintiffs (“sh*** fiiire” and, two weeks later, “[i]t’s fire”). Over a year later, White allegedly wrote to Plaintiff Strange that he sent The Weekend “that track u made a while ago,” that he “listened and liked it [but] nothing ever happened.” Shortly thereafter, Plaintiffs allege, White wrote that he was “just gonna tell” The Weeknd that his production team wrote the track since The Weeknd “doesn’t know [Strange].” Strange claims that responded that the Weeknd did in fact know him (“with Ponytail you met on Drake[‘s] tour”).
Regardless of what happened with Ponytail on Drake’s tour, Plaintiffs argue that they were never presented with a license or agreement permitting The Weeknd’s use of “Vibeking,” nor did they authorize or consent to such a use. Meanwhile, “Call Out My Name” reached number 4 on Billboard charts and has received hundreds of millions of listens across various streaming services (some of which are named as defendants to this action).
Plaintiffs argue that “Call Out My Name” bears copyright-infringing levels of similarities to “Vibeking.” Specifically, they allege that both tracks are “atmospheric and melancholic,” have the same rare meter (6/8) and similar tempo, and oscillate between the same minor key chord progression. Further, Plantiffs contend, the hook’s melody steals from a specific rhythm and bar phrasing in “Vibeking” for approximately twelve motifs, or 41 seconds of track. Per the complaint, the musical competition and sound recording in the two songs are “strikingly and/or substantially similar, if not identical” without authorization.
As a result, Plaintiffs seek the creation of a constructive trust over all materials as well as damages in the form of both lost profits and disgorgement of Defendants’ profits, as well as attorney’s fees. Judge Fernando Aenlle-Rocha presides over the matter.