Rick Astley has settled his legal dispute with rapper Yung Gravy over the use of a sound-a-like vocalist on the latter's track 'Betty (Get Money)', which is built upon Astley’s 'Never Gonna Give You Up'.
Legal reps for the rapper filed papers with the courts in LA earlier this week confirming that a settlement had been reached, though no details of any settlement deal were provided.
'Betty (Get Money)' makes heavy use of Astley's 1987 hit, although it doesn't actually sample the original track. Instead a new version was created with a singer hired to imitate Astley's distinct vocals.
On the publishing side, deals were done with the writers of 'Never Gonna Give You Up', Stock, Aiken and Waterman. But, with the original recording not used, neither Astley nor his label were involved in any deals.
From a copyright perspective, 'Betty (Get Money)' was fully legit. However, Astley filed a lawsuit claiming that his publicity rights under Californian law had been infringed. That was on the basis that Yung Gravy and his team had replicated the 'Never Gonna Give You Up' vocals in such a way that many people assumed it was, in fact, Astley singing on the new track.
It was a timely case given the increased interest in AI tools that can create new vocals in the style of specific artists. Although that technology was not used by Yung Gravy, the legal questions posed by Astley's lawsuit were very relevant.
If an artist wants to stop someone from using AI to imitate their vocals - and especially if they don't own the copyright in their music - they would likely rely on publicity rights to do so.
How publicity rights work varies greatly from country to country, and in the US from state to state. In some countries they might be referred to as personality or image rights. And in the UK, the right doesn't currently exist in law at all.
Had Astley's litigation got to court, it would have clarified the extent to which the Californian publicity right gives artists control over their voice. His lawsuit cited a 1980s publicity rights case filed after Ford used a Bette Midler sound-a-like in a TV advert.
However, his case - against an artist who released a sound-a-like record rather than a brand who used a sound-a-like in an advert - would have tested the reach of publicity rights in a scenario more similar to the recent flurry of AI-generated sound-a-like tracks that have gone viral.
Like, for example, that Ghostwriter track that imitated the voices of both Drake and The Weeknd, something that annoyed their label Universal Music. Which also happens to be the record company that released 'Betty (Get Money)'.
That fact probably made an out of court settlement in the Astley case pretty likely. After all, Universal - which recently called for a US-wide federal publicity right in a Congressional hearing - wouldn't really want to be involved in a case in the Californian courts where the defence was based on the idea that the right to publicity shouldn't protect an artist's voice.