Top 10 Legal Highlights from 2022… The Year That Was

As we fully gear ourselves into 2023, we figured it would only be right to delve into some moments in Law and topical stories that shaped quite the narrative in the world of Media over the past 12 months from copyright action cases to libellous rulings that uncovered hidden truths behind social media handles. 2022 took us all on a wild ride that left many lessons in Law to be learned.

1. Sheeran v Chokri (Copyright Action Case)

Centering on the biggest selling single of 2017 in the UK & USA, the UK High Courts had the hefty task of assessing whether Shape Of You by Ed Sheeran,  had infringed copyright from an earlier piece of musical work created by the defendants, (Sami Chokri & Ross O’Donoghue).  As the Claimant in this case, Ed Sheeran sought a declaration from the courts to assert and confirm that ‘Shape Of You’ had not infringed any copyright work following a suspension of royalty payments from the Performing Rights Society (PRS). The defendants subsequent counterclaim stated that there was in fact a case for copyright infringement based on the similarity of songs, previous knowledge of the earlier song and previous performance of such activities by the artist. Following numerous statements and evidence presented by both parties including musicologists on both sides, the final ruling by the courts on the 6th April 2022 held that Chokri and O’Donoghue had failed to satisfy the burden of establishing that copyright infringement had taken place and that the arguments relating to the ‘Oh Why/Oh I’ phrasing and hook were insufficient to support the case. For further analysis of this case and copyright law requirements, check out our previous article here.

2. Broadcasting In Crown Court Cases – New Ruling For 2022 Under The Crown Court (Recording And Broadcasting) Order 2020

July saw a reform in UK law which now allows UK broadcasters such as the BBC, ITN and Sky to broadcast sentencing remarks in Crown Court cases (such activity previously only done in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal). The stipulations are such that permission will need to be sought from the deciding judge in each individual case prior to filming and if granted access, it is only the judge that will be filmed when making their sentencing remarks to protect the privacy of others i.e. court staff, victims, jurors and witnesses. Live Broadcasts will also incur a 10 second delay to ensure reporting restrictions are adhered to and copyright of content will be retained by the Ministry of Justice.

Further guidance states that ‘broadcasters must make footage publicly available online within one working day of the hearing on YouTube’ whilst taking into account that the contents of any broadcast must present sentencing remarks in ‘a fair and accurate way having regard to the overall content of the report/presentation and the context in which the broadcast is presented,’ so as to prevent bias.

3. Apple Acquisition Of UK Startup, AI Music

In a burgeoning world of Artificial Intelligence  as well as its demonstrable presence across the media and entertainment sector (did someone say Lensa?) we are seeing more big budget acquisitions taking up space in this machine learning space. It stands to reason that the world’s largest technology company in 2022 (according to Forbes 2022 Global 2000 Report) would make some head waves by buying London based, AI Music to hone in on research and development technology that can be used to generate tailor made music based on user interaction. A soundtrack for every mood, instance, emotion or environment you are in but with the Apple magic deep within the tech DNA. Some would argue that such a  is not too dissimilar from what we currently have in the audio streaming space but if the dawn of the iPod was anything to learn from by way  of historical success then who knows what Tim Cook and the team have in store for us for the near future?  As one of only two reported acqusitions that Apple made in 2022 (both UK startups) is this a signpost for what is to come in the future for Apple or maybe them taking a more cautious and diligent approach to Compettion Law/Antitrust issues?

4. Prince Harry Brings Libel Case against The Mail (Associated Newspapers Limited)

Depending on what was on your watchlist for 2022 (or who you were following on social media the past 12 months), you probably came across a documentary or two. First half of the year would have been ‘Jeen-Yuhs’ chronicling the rise of Kanye West as a Chicago native to worldwide music producer, second half of the year might have been ‘Harry and Meghan ’ the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. If you did catch the latter, you would have learnt a little more about the Duchess of Sussex’s copyright infringement and privacy case against the Mail on Sunday (ANL) during a three year legal battle. Following the Duchess’s win in the Court of Appeal case last year, the Duke (alongside celebrities and public figures) has also filed a claim against the Daily Mail (ANL) for invasion of privacy with claims that there had been misuse of private information and illegal methods of obtaining such information by way of accessing personal bank accounts, recording private phone calls and other illegal methods.

A hearing is set to take place in the first half of 2023 in which the courts will hear evidence and make a decision as to the outcome of such findings against the tabloid newspaper.

5. DCMS 2022 Report Into Online Influencer Culture – Influencer Culture: Lights, Camera, Inaction?

If the influencers are influencing the masses, then who is influencing the influencers and how is the online space being regulated and protected for users alike? A question within a question, but a small peek into the myriad of questions and answers within the 2022 Report that was published by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

At this point in the 21st century, it is fair to say we are all (Adults and children alike) a tapped into social media in one way or another whether that be for professional or social use. In doing so, the strategy and acceleration  of promoting ‘brands, products or services with selected individuals’ has arguably become a woven thread within society rather than an anomaly with which we used to associate with celebrity stardom. The 69 page DCMS report discusses the progression of technical innovation in online influencer culture in addition to the need for advertisement regulation and measures required for child labour protection in the sector. It is a conversation which we should all be aware of – click here for a link to the report.

6. Vardy v Rooney (Wagatha Christie Trial)

Another top ranking lawsuit for Libel cases in 2022 which caught the media by storm and adapted into a two part drama for Channel 4.

Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney came head to head in court last year following Rooney’s accusations that Vardy, wife of footballer Jamie Vardy was leaking private information about her to The Sun newspaper. Through her own efforts as a modern day Agatha Christie/Jessica Fletcher protagonist Coleen Rooney, wife to former footballer and now football manager Wayne Rooney, uncovered the truth using her Instagram account to uncover such suspicion and revealed that her mystery had been solved. So there was only one thing to do…..expose the culprit aka Rebekah Vardy on Twitter and Instagram (double whammy).

Fast forward to 2022, Vardy’s retaliation by way of attempting to sue Rooney in a Libel case resulted in a showdown trial with evidence presented from both sides. The courts ultimately found that ‘significant parts of (Vardy’s) evidence were not credible’ and that the allegations raised by Rooney were substantially true, particularly around evidence that was shared with the tabloid journalist revealing information that Rooney did not want to share publicly. The Public Interest defence was also dealt with briefly by the presiding Judge, Justice Steyn DBE stating that the defence had failed on this point as Rooney had not put the matter to Vardy prior to the publication of the post but that in this instance it did not affect the overall result of the case.

7. BFI National Lottery Audience Project Fund

The British Film Institute publish details in October of its £15million fund to support the UK exhibition and distribution sector to encourage wider audiences for UK independent film and extended reality/broader screen work.

As part of the BFI’s 10 year strategy to benefit the public and industry over the next decade, the organisation has stated there will be measures to support UK screen culture as the sector evolves over the coming years.

The fund will make awards of between £20,000 and £200,000 depending on the scope and reach of the project, with an upper limit of £500,000 for projects of “exceptional scale and ambition,” – BFI

For further information about how the BFI is seeking to advance knowledge, programmes, National Lottery funding and leadership to build a diverse UK screen culture, click here.

8. Channel 4 Privatisation – To Be Or Not To Be? That Is The Question….

Earlier on in 2022, talks and conversations were being widely discussed around the possible privatisation of the state owned broadcaster. Proposed plans detailed its intention to increase  spending on TV shows commissioned by production companies outside of London and moving staff to regions such as Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Further points in the proposal also covered plans towards a joint venture partnership with external investors moving the broadcaster to a fully commercially funded business model thus releasing funds back to the public purse as part of major purchase and the sale of its London headquarters. Following a majority pushback against privatisation as part of the government’s consultation, it has now been confirmed plans for privatisation have been terminated with  (Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Michelle Donelan stating that ‘there are better ways to secure C4C (Channel 4 Television) sustainability  and of the UK independent production sector.’

9. Damages &  Defamation – Eddie Hearn Files Case Against Youtuber, Jake Paul

A claim by Jake Paul that boxing judge, Glenn Feldman was paid by Matchroom Boxing to ‘score Anthony Joshua to win the fight’ in the much anticipated heavyweight word title rematch against Oleksandr Usyk in August has landed the popular YouTuber in hot water with Matchroom Boxing boss, Eddie Hearn.

Reports stated that a defamation claim was filed against Paul in New York by both Hearn and Feldman seeking damages in excess of $100m (That’s a lot of YouTube clicks!). Eddie Hearn in a seperate interview following Paul’s comments made the point that Paul had crossed the line in his interview and  accused Matchroom of ‘committing a crime of corruption.’ Hearn further stated that they had asked Paul to take back the comments which he had made, but this wasn’t done.

Is a settlement out of court likely to be on the cards for 2023? It doesn’t appear to be on a New Year’s resolution list for either side at this stage, but we shall be keeping our eyes peeled for any developments in the coming months.

10. Will Dua Lipa ‘Levitate’ Above Her Copyright Lawsuits?

We kicked off with Ed Sheeran so we’ll round off with Dua Lipa as a defendant in two music copyright lawsuits that were brought in 2022.  The superstar singer has been accused of plagiarising songs by Artikal Sound System and songwriters L Russel Brown and Sandy Linzer in her hit 2020 hit song, Levitating. The lawsuits filed in March 2022 speak to the similarities we have seen in copyright infringement cases in recent years (i.e. Blurred Lines (R.Thicke), Shape of You (E. Sheeran) and Good 4 U (O.Rodrigo ).

Is it an original work? Is there substantial similarity? Did the defendant have access to the plaintiff’s work?  These are some of the questions that the courts will ultimately have to rule on when coming to a decision if matters proceed to trial.

Dua Lipa’s lawyers claim that the singer has never heard of the songs that form the basis of the claim, Don Dablo and Wiggle and Giggle All Night (written by Brown and Linzer) and have requested that the lawsuit be dismissed.

Listen to the songs and let us know if you think this case deserves to go to trial.

by Author Sharon Ayi