Lawsuit Against Post Malone Going in ‘Circles’ After Rapper is Accused of Denying Credit to Alleged Co-Writer

Steven T. Lowe

On October 19, 2020, Judge Otis Wright III for the United States District Court for the Central District of California refused to dismiss musician and producer Tyler Armes’ lawsuit against Post Malone for co-writer credit and publishing royalties on Malone’s song “Circles.”

Armes alleged he co-authored the hit composition/sound recording performed by recording artist Post Malone, entitled “Circles.” Additionally, Armes claimed he made recommendations to alter the tempo, vocals, and guitar tracks and that his “contributions to the organization, instrumentation, arrangement and overall unique sound of the Song are all reflected in the final sound recording of [Circles] that was ultimately released.” According to the Judge, after the song was released, Armes reached out to Malone to obtain co-writer credit and publishing royalties and Malone offered him five percent of the publishing royalties. Armes unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate a higher percentage and as a result, the defendants refused to credit Armes or pay him any royalties.

Malone, along with his producer and record label who are also listed as defendants, attempted to have Armes’ claim dismissed under Rule 12(b)(7) for his failure to join the other co-authors of the song as parties to the lawsuit because they are “necessary and indispensable simply because they claim co-ownership interests in the Composition copyright.” They further argued that since joinder is not possible because one of the non-party writers is a Canadian citizen and resident, the court should dismiss the case. The court denied this motion, stating “Defendants offer no practical explanation for why the Court could not ‘accord complete relief among existing parties,’ considering that Armes expressly disclaims any attempt to reach the Non-Party Individuals’ shares of the profits.”

Furthermore, the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Armes’ claim under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Defendants argued that Armes’ recording claims fail because he did not allege “(1) that he exercised control over the work, (2) that all co-authors intended he be a co-author, or (3) that the audience appeal of the Recording turns on his contributions,” and that Armes did not allege that he made “an independently copyrightable contribution to the Recording.” The court found that Armes “sufficiently pleaded a shared intent to be co-authors and that the audience appeal of the Recording turns on his contributions thereto,” as shown by his description of the writing process. However, the court did not find Armes to have exercised control over the work because he did not plead facts showing he “superintended control over its creation.” Similarly, the court found that Armes failed to allege he made a copyrightable contribution to the song. The order states that while Armes shows he “supplied direction and ideas,” that is not enough to establish a copyrightable contribution. Therefore, the court granted the motion under Rule 12(b)(6) and dismissed the claims relating to the recording with leave to amend, granting Armes fourteen days to file an amended complaint.

Armes is represented by Allison S. Hart and Kelsey J. Leeker of Lavely & Singer.

The defendants are represented by David A. Steinberg, Christine Lepera, and Jeffrey M. Movit of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP.

The case is Armes v. Post et al., case number 2:20-cv-03212, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.