He’s never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down – but he is potentially gonna sue you if you (allegedly) impersonate his distinctive baritone.
Rick Astley has filed a lawsuit against the rapper Yung Gravy over the song Betty (Get Money), which was released in 2022.
Here is a look at what’s happened so far.
Why is Rick Astley suing Yung Gravy?
Yung Gravy’s song Betty (Get Money) borrows heavily from the melody for Astley’s 1987 hit Never Gonna Give You Up. This bit, however, was reportedly authorised, according to Rolling Stone.
The song also features the singer Popnick, who does such a brilliant job imitating Astley’s voice that to the untrained ear, it sounds indistinguishable from the real deal.
Astley is claiming the use of the impersonator is illegal.
What does the lawsuit say?
Astley filed the lawsuit on Thursday 26 January at Los Angeles Superior Court.
His complaint says the song violates his right of publicity – or the right to control the commercial exploitation of a person’s identity and prevent its unauthorised commercial appropriation by others – by featuring Popnick’s impersonation.
“In an effort to capitalise off the immense popularity and goodwill of Mr Astley, defendants… conspired to include a deliberate and nearly indistinguishable imitation of Mr Astley’s voice,” the lawsuit says. “The public could not tell the difference.”
Astley’s lawsuit seeks “millions of dollars” in damages, as well as profits from the song.
According to the singer’s team, “a licence to use the original underlying musical composition does not authorise the stealing of the artist’s voice in the original recording”.
Yung Gravy and Popnick are among the defendants, along with Yung Gravy’s record label, Universal Music Group’s Republic Records.
The complaint states that Astley’s claim resembles a 1988 case in which Bette Midler successfully sued Ford Motor Co for using a soundalike to sell vehicles, even though Ford had licensed her song Do You Want To Dance for an advert.
Who is Yung Gravy?
Real name Matthew Hauri, Yung Gravy is a 26-year-old rapper who was born in Rochester, Minnesota. He rose to prominence following the release of his 2016 debut single, Mr Clean, which went on to be certified platinum.
Betty (Get Money) is his most successful track to date, reaching number 30 on the US Billboard chart and going viral on TikTok.
In an interview with Billboard following the song’s release, he spoke about the Astley sample, saying: “I always thought that sample would be sick to do something with. I just never figured it was clearable.”
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“Somebody who had part-ownership of the rights to the sample hit me up like, ‘We f*** with you, you should try it out’… we basically remade the whole song. Had a different singer and instruments, but it was all really close because it makes it easier legally.
“We said, ‘Let’s try to clear it and see what happens’. At first, two of the three writers that had to approve it, approved it, and one guy wanted us to make it a little bit cleaner.”
Sky News has contacted representatives for the rapper, and for his label, for comment on the lawsuit.
Who is Rick Astley?
Astley, 56, is an English singer-songwriter who rose to fame through the Stock Aitken Waterman label – also home to Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan – in the 1980s. Never Gonna Give You Up was his biggest hit, topping charts around the world.
About 20 years later, the song saw a resurgence thanks to the Rickroll internet meme, in which the track unexpectedly interrupts unrelated content.
In 2021, the song passed a billion views on YouTube.
Other famous music lawsuits
Astley’s lawyer Richard Busch is known for representing Marvin Gaye’s family against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams over their alleged copying of the song Got To Give It Up for their 2013 hit Blurred Lines.
There have been numerous other disputes over music rights in recent years.
In December 2022, a US lawsuit alleging that Taylor Swift stole lyrics for her hit song Shake It Off was dismissed by a judge ahead of a planned trial.
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Earlier in 2022, a case claiming that Ed Sheeran had copied a hook for his 2017 hit Shape Of You was also dismissed in the UK.
A case against Katy Perry was another long-running dispute in the US that came to an end in 2022, when a federal appeals court decided that the US pop star and her team were not liable to pay out $2.8m to a rapper who accused her of plagiarising part of one of his songs for her 2013 hit, Dark Horse.