South Florida-based reggae band Artikal Sound System has entered the murky world of music copyright law with a federal lawsuit alleging pop star Dua Lipa’s chart-topping song “Levitating” copied a melody from a track the group released in 2017.
In a lawsuit filed this week in federal court in California, members of Artikal Sound System claim their track ‘Live Your Life’ was the source of Dua Lipa’s melodic hook in ‘Levitating,’ which broke Billboard The Hot 100 chart is the oldest single in the top ten by a female artist.
Band founders Chris Montague and Fabian Acuna joined drummer Adam Kampf and keyboardist Christopher Cope in filing the copyright infringement case. They are seeking damages from the alleged authors of “Levitating”, including Stephen Kozmeniuk, Clarence Coffee Jr., Sarah Hudson and Dua Lipa. Warner Records, who released the song in 2020 as Dua Lipa’s fifth platinum-selling track nostalgia for the futureis also named as defendant.
Artikal Sound System is a regular on the South Florida reggae circuit that stretches from the Terra Firmata bar in Stuart to the North Beach Bandshell in Miami Beach. They also tour nationally, playing reggae festivals and theater gigs across the United States.
The song in question uses a series of two-note chords that some listeners (and obviously members of the Artikal Sound System band) have found similar to the chorus of “Levitating”. Both songs briefly utter the phrase “all night” in similar rhythms as well before diverging in lyrical structure.
“Given the degree of similarity, it is highly unlikely that ‘Levitating’ was created independently of ‘Live Your Life’,” the complaint alleges.
According to Artikal Sound System, “Live Your Life” was a hit on its own, albeit on a smaller scale, as it rose through the ranks. Billboard reggae chart after its 2017 release. Citing ongoing litigation, the band’s attorney, Stewart Levy, declined to comment for this story.
Kozmeniuk (AKA Koz), a Canadian record producer and longtime Dua Lipa collaborator, explained in a 2020 podcast for Song Exploder that he wrote the chords and hook for “Levitating” on a vintage Roland synthesizer. He said that when he worked with Lipa, he usually cooked up melodies ahead of studio sessions with the now 26-year-old British singer.
Lipa added on the podcast that she remembered the “exact date” she composed her parts for “Levitating.”
“‘Levitating’ premiered on August 28, 2018,” she said. “I knew I wanted to touch influences from my childhood, and a lot of my childhood influences are really songs and music that my parents listened to – a lot of Jamiroquai, Prince and Blondie.”
The singer kicked off her Future Nostalgia tour at the FTX Arena in Miami last month after a long delay precipitated by the pandemic. As of March 2, the music video for “Levitating” has garnered over 475 million views on Dua Lipa’s YouTube channel.
new times could not reach Lipa representatives for comment.
In order to prove copyright infringement in federal court in California, members of the Artikal Sound System band will first need to prove that Dua Lipa or her co-authors had access to the band’s work. They must then establish that “Levitating” is “substantially similar” to the protected musical elements of “Live Your Life”.
If these basic standards are met, the process of assessing copyright infringement can become even more subjective under California law – with what’s called the “intrinsic test.” This test typically tasks a jury with evaluating whether the feel and concept of an allegedly infringing song is the same as the plaintiff’s original work. The Ninth Circuit, the appellate circuit that ruled California’s federal courts, described this final step as relying on “an ordinary person’s subjective impressions of similarities between works.”
The Ninth Circuit has brought some of the most high-profile music copyright infringement cases in recent years, including a lawsuit in which the heirs of R&B legend Marvin Gaye claimed his track “Got to Give It Up” had been scammed by producer Pharrell Williams and singer Robin Thicke. An appeal panel in 2018 ultimately upheld a multi-million dollar award against Williams and Thicke.
Most recently, a Ninth Circuit appeals panel in March 2020 ruled in favor of rock legends Led Zeppelin, who were defending themselves against a lawsuit claiming their 1971 staple “Stairway to Heaven” ripped the track “Taurus” from the Spirit group.