U.S. Olympic Figure Skaters Sued for Copyright Infringement

Stephany S. Kim

The end to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics was as agonizing as its beginning was dull. After the lowest-rated opening ceremony in history,[1]—one commentator described the ceremony as an “artless, uninspired dud”[2]—the Olympics was clouded with another Russian doping scandal,[3] while the immense pressure that Olympic athletes face came under public attention once again.[4] This is not to say that the Games were without accomplishments: Nathan Chen took men’s figure skating by a storm, Eileen Gu became the first athlete to medal in three different freestyle skiing events, and Erin Jackson became the first Black woman to medal in speedskating at the Olympics, just to name a few.[5] However, against the backdrop of public health disaster and political brinkmanship, the Games just did not deliver the “kind of inspiration” it used to.[6]

Now cue a lawsuit to top it all off. Two weeks ago, brothers Robert and Aron Marderosian—professionally known as Heavy Young Heathens—sued U.S. figure skaters Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, alleging copyright violation of their version of “House of Rising Sun.”[7] The suit alleges that Knierim and Frazier—whose performance secured a silver medal for the U.S. in the team event—used the band’s song in their routine without authorization or permission of the brothers.[8] The suit also accuses NBC Universal Media and its subsidiaries, Peacock and USA Network, of copyright infringement by broadcasting this performance.[9] The brothers’ attorney (and also their father) Mick Marderosian stated that he reached out to the defendants prior to filing but was “completely ignored.”[10]

The complaint states that none of the defendants nor any relevant parties contacted the band about licensing its copyrighted track, “in a brazen and improper effort to capitalize on Plaintiffs’ hard work and copyright ownership of their master recording of ‘House of the Rising Sun.’”[11] Moreover, the complaint alleges that while “all other Olympic short program routines provided an on-screen chyron of the song title and artist(s) who perform the song,” Heavy Young Heathens were deprived of such credit.[12] As such, the complaint states that the alleged copyright violation caused “great harm to the value of [the band’s] command for such a well known piece of their recording catalog.”[13]

The Marderosian brothers are seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to restrain and enjoin the defendants from continuing to infringe on their copyrighted rendition of “House of Rising Sun.”[14] They are also seeking damages in the amount of profits attributable to the infringement, or in the alternative, the maximum statutory damage for each act of copyright infringement.[15] Mick Marderosian told a media outlet that the skaters’ use of the band’s song “has greatly diminished the licensing future for this song, as it will now be forever linked to figure skating which limits its future use.”[16]

This is not the first time the brothers have brought a copyright infringement suit. Heavy Young Heathens have previously accused several other companies of misusing their work, including Fox Sports, Discovery Inc., Monster Energy, and Warner Brothers, in lawsuits that later settled.[17] The band’s music has “appeared in TV shows including The Simpsons, ads for Starbucks, and trailers for movies like Deadpool.”[18]

Meanwhile, Knierim and Frazier remain one of the highest performing pairs in U.S. figure skating. The pair won last year’s national competition, placed seventh at the 2021 World Championships, and had the highest score of all American pairs at Grand Prix Series this past fall.[19] But no amount of medals can shield against copyright infringement suits, and Knierim and Frazier are no exceptions.


[1] Dan Wetzel, Olympic Openings Ceremony Draws Record-Low Reatings: Why Aren’t Americans Tuning In?, Yahoo Sports (Feb. 5, 2022), https://sports.yahoo.com/olympics-opening-ceremony-draws-abysmal-ratings-why-arent-americans-tuning-in-011318548.html.

[2] Sarah Cascone, Why the Opening Ceremonies at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games Were an Artless, Uninspired Dud, Artnet News (Feb. 4, 2022), https://news.artnet.com/opinion/2022-olympic-ceremony-review-2068461.

[3] Daniel Victor and Andrew Das, Tears and Sobs, and Not Just From Kamila Valieva, Follow Her Crushing Olympic End, N.Y. Times (Feb. 17, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/16/sports/olympics/russian-reactions-nbc-valieva-fall.html?searchResultPosition=9.

[4] Sian Beilock, Mikaela Shiffrin Stumbled. What Happens Next Matters More., N.Y. Times (Feb. 19, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/19/opinion/culture/mikaela-shiffrin-olympics-combined-fall.html.

[5] Jaclyn Diaz, Tom Goldman, and Brian Mann, 9 Moments That Resonated at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Nat. Pub. Radio (Feb. 21, 2022), https://www.npr.org/2022/02/21/1081940350/9-moments-storylines-resonated-2022-beijing-winter-olympics.

[6] Lindsay Crouse, Why the Beijing Olympics Are So Hard to Watch, N.Y. Times (Feb. 13, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/13/opinion/culture/beijing-olympics-inspiring-moments.html.

[7] Blake Brittain, Musical Duo Heavy Young Heathens Sues Figure Skaters, NBC Over Olympic Song Use, Reuters (Feb. 17, 2022), https://www.reuters.com/legal/transactional/musical-duo-heavy-young-heathens-sues-figure-skaters-nbc-over-olympic-song-use-2022-02-17/.

[8] Jen Juneau and Adam Carlson, U.S. Figure Skaters and NBC Sued for Copyright Infringement Over Song Used in Olympic Routine, People (Feb. 21, 2022), https://people.com/sports/beijing-olympics-us-figure-skaters-sued-copyright-infringement-song-nbc/.

[9] Supra note 7.

[10] Katie Balevic, 2 U.S. Olympic Figure Skaters and NBC Are Being Sued for Copyright Infringement By Composers Who Said the Skaters Used Their Song Without Permission, Insider (Feb. 20, 2022), https://www.insider.com/us-olympic-figure-skaters-and-nbc-sued-over-song-use-2022-2.

[11] Complaint at 6, 29, Twelve Sixy LLC v. Compcast Corp., No. 8:22-cv-00255 (C.D.C.A. Feb. 17, 2022).

[12] Id. at 30.

[13] Id. at 31.

[14] Id. at 40.

[15] Id. at 42.

[16] Supra note 10.

[17] Supra note 7.

[18] Id.

[19] Supra note 8.