When Elena Occhipinti, an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles, met a musician named Matty earlier this year and heard his story, she knew he needed a trial lawyer. And fast.
“I was like, man, who do I call? There’s these big firms in New York that I work with, big firms here in L.A.,” she said. “Are they going to have time for this? Am I going to be able to get somebody on the phone and have them jump on it? How much are they going to cost?”
Instead, Occhipinti called the second floor of an old mansion home in City Park West that houses Werge Law. The small firm, founded last year, is carving out a niche in the L.A. and New York-dominated world of music litigation, all from a humble homebase in Denver.
“Our firm has a more laid back, Colorado-based vibe,” said attorney Tom Werge, who sings in a ska band, “while still doing the hard-driving work necessary to prosecute these cases.”
An early-morning megahit
Just after 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night in April 2020, the 30-year-old music producer Matty Spats arrived at a seven-bedroom mansion in a quiet, suburban section of L.A.
“Hey what’s good Jason it’s Matty I just pulled up,” he texted the homeowner, Jason Derulo.
Once inside, Spats (real name Matthew Spatola) and Derulo (real name Jason Desrouleaux) spent the small hours of that early-pandemic night creating a song they called “Savage Love.” Spats played bass and acoustic guitar and co-wrote the music, he recalls.
After a second session a few nights later, “Savage Love” was finished. Spats said that Derulo paid him $2,000 for his two evenings of work and told Spats that should “Savage Love” be released, Derula and his record company would pay him more for co-creating it.
“But that never happened,” according to the lawsuit that Werge filed late last month.
Two weeks after recording it, Derulo teased “Savage Love” to his many millions of TikTok followers and was immediately criticized for failing to give credit to a co-creator. The song sampled work by New Zealand teen Jawsh 685 (real name Joshua Nanai) without credit.
“Savage Love” wasn’t released for another month, until Sony Music could get permission from Jawsh, a process that reportedly included messaging his mom on Facebook. Meanwhile, Spats’ attempts to get credit for his work and receive royalties were rebuffed, he said.
“Hey what’s good brotha hope all is well just wanted to touch base about possibly getting my name on Savage Love as guitar and bass,” Spats texted in September 2020.
“Hey bro yes. Send me your full name,” Derulo responded, according to copies of their text message exchanges that are now exhibits in Spats’ federal lawsuit.
But that conversation ultimately went nowhere, Spats says. So did text messages he sent to Derulo’s tour manager. Meanwhile, “Savage Love” became the No. 1 song in 17 countries and a remix by South Korean pop group BTS topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
“As a direct result of the defendants’ refusal to grant Spatola his rightfully earned co-writing credit, Spatola was not given the opportunity to further advance his career in the music industry as a benefit to helping Derulo create the chart-topping song,” his lawsuit claims.
Requests for comment from Derulo’s publicist and Sony Music were not answered.
‘How many zeroes?’
“It’s not the kind of situation that you think of often with copyrights,” Tom Werge said. “Which is, ‘Hey, you stole my song, you’re not allowed to have that, you weren’t allowed to put that out.’ This one is a little different because it’s about how they created this thing together.”
“It was a No. 1 hit song,” he said. “How much money did that make? How many zeroes are at the end of that number? I don’t know the answer to that, but there is a number.”
It’s a number that, barring a settlement, will be decided by a judge or jury 800 miles from here in L.A., likely after they hear from large law firms representing Sony and Derulo. Werge’s law partner, Greg Corbin, says “that dynamic has never really shaken us, even a little.”
“He is very, very, very upbeat. Like, very upbeat. Even when he’s in the thick of it, in the weeds, he’s still very upbeat,” Occhipinti said with a laugh while describing Werge.
“I don’t know if that’s a Colorado thing,” she added. “But it’s nice.”
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