Rick Astley has filed a lawsuit against hip-hop artist Yung Gravy, alleging that the 26-year-old rapper impersonated his voice without legal authorization in the 2022 single Betty (Get Money).
The song legally interpolates parts of Astley's 1987 hit Never Gonna Give You Up, as Yung Gravy and his collaborators had previously acquired the legal right to do so. However, Astley's lawyers claim that the rapper has performed "a deliberate and nearly indistinguishable imitation of Mr. Astley’s voice throughout the song" that constitutes "unauthorized, intentional, theft of his voice for commercial purposes".
"The imitation of Mr. Astley’s voice was so successful the public believed it was actually Mr. Astley singing and/or a direct sample," the lawsuit reads, claiming that Gravy worked with his producer, Nick "Popnick" Seeley, to recreate Astley's vocals as closely as possible. "Gravy said he tried but failed for years to obtain a sound recording sample license," Astley's attorneys claim. "So, instead, they resorted to theft of Mr. Astley’s voice without a license and without agreement."
The lawsuit, filed on Thursday January 26th in Los Angeles, points to a famous 1988 legal battle between Ford Motor Co. and actress Bette Midler. After Ford were unable to hire Midler for a commercial, they resorted to hiring a voice actor, who was instructed to impersonate her.
"As the “Bette Midler” court found, more than 30 years ago, in one of the most famous cases in the music business, a license to use the original underlying musical composition does not authorize the stealing of the artist’s voice in the original recording," the lawsuit reads. "To use the artist’s voice, the creators of a new recording need a license to copy the actual sounds of the voice from the sound recording, a so-called “sample” license of the actual sounds of the voice from the sound recording."
Astley's legal team is headed up by Richard S. Busch, the lawyer who famously represented Marvin Gaye's family in the historic copyright infringement case against Robin Thicke, Pharrell and T.I. over the song Blurred Lines.
Revisit our explainer on sampling and interpolation.