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Post Malone reaches last-minute deal in ‘Circles’ copyright lawsuit

Jury selection was about to begin on a Canadian musician's claims his contribution during a jam session entitled him to co-ownership of what was to become the 2019 Post Malone hit.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Singer-songwriter Post Malone settled a lawsuit by a musician who claimed he co-wrote the 2019 hit "Circles" during an all-night recording session a year earlier — just as the trial was getting underway.

Lawyers for Austin Post, the singer's real name, and Tyler Armes informed U.S. District Judge Otis Wright II on Tuesday morning as jury selection was about to start that they had reached a settlement in principle. The judge continued the trial to May 30 pending a filing of an official request to voluntarily dismiss the case.

Armes, a former member of Canadian rap group Down With Webster, sued Post and his producer Adam Feeney, aka Frank Dukes, in 2020, seeking credit as a co-writer for what may be Post's biggest hit to date as well as a cut of the royalties.

According to Armes, he was invited by Post's manager to join the musician at Dukes' Toronto studio on Aug. 8, 2018, where they collaborated from 2 a.m. to 9 a.m. on a track that would later evolve to become "Circles." Armes claims he played bass, Post played drums and Dukes was on guitar and keyboards during the session.

At the end of the session, Armes claims, Dukes played back the recording for Armes and Post, and the three of them were "thrilled" with the results, with Dukes exclaiming, “It’s so fucking good! It’s a whole new sound man," and Post saying, “It’s super special.”

"Circles" was released more than a year later, reaching Number 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in November 2019, but without Armes' name among the co-writers. When he reached out to Post's management about getting credited for his work on the song, Armes said, he was offered a "low-ball" offer of 5% of the royalties for the song and no co-writing or co-producing credit.

Judge Wright early on dismissed Armes' claim for joint authorship in the "Circles" recording because, as the judge said, he hadn't made a independently copyrightable contribution to the recording and he hadn't made a case that "he superintended control over its creation."

That ruling left intact the argument that Armes could claim joint authorship in the "Circles" composition, as opposed to the recording. However, the judge further narrowed the issue in 2022 when, ruling on Post's summary judgment motions, he concluded that although Armes hadn't met his burden that he co-authored the composition for the commercial release of "Circles," he still could pursue a claim of co-authorship just for the 2018 session.

According to the judge, a jury would have to decide whether the recording made on Dukes' laptop that night contained original material by Armes, whether it was the result of the three musicians mutually intending to write a song, and whether he had authority and superintendence over the composition.

Post and Dukes have opposed this alternative theory of co-ownership in "Circles" by arguing that the song wasn't a derivative work from the session but rather "the continuation of the creation of a joint work."

"Simply stated, the session material was never intended to be — including by Armes — a separate finished, joint work from which a derivative work could be created," they said in a court filing. "It was one step (out of many) in the process of creating the 'Circles' composition."

They also maintained that none of Armes' performances during the session were recorded on Dukes' laptop. The rough mix of that recording session only contained Post vocalizing a melody without lyrics and playing the guitar and Dukes playing the bass and rhythm guitar. Armes, on the other hand, isn't playing any instruments or singing on the rough mix, they said.

Lawyers for Post and Armes didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the settlement.

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