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‘We don’t usually act for parties sued by international megastars’: A boutique firm reflects on going up against Kanye West

Following the dismissal of a case that made global headlines, the lawyer who defended his client against Kanye West reflects on working on a high-profile “David v Goliath” case.

user iconLauren Croft 03 April 2023 Big Law
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Last year, global celebrity rapper Ye (formally Kanye West) made headlines when he decided to pursue legal action against a small Melbourne burger restaurant, College Dropout Burgers.  

Kanye West, who legally changed his name to Ye in 2021, originally filed the case in October 2022, accusing the burger joint and owner Mark Elkhouri of misleading and deceptive conduct by implying College Dropout Burgers was associated with or sponsored by Ye.

The College Dropout is the title of Ye’s debut album, released in 2004. The restaurant still has a signature “College Dropout” Burger on the menu, which court documents filed back in October mentioned specifically.

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“Ye has suffered, and will continue to suffer, loss and damage,” the documents said.

“Ye has sold more than 140 million records internationally and is one of the best-selling artists of all time.”

Ye was originally represented by King & Wood Mallesons — but the firm dropped the rapper on 17 February after he reportedly failed to instruct them or make any substantial moves on the claim.

Ye did not engage new solicitors to represent him in Australia, and Justice Shaun McElwaine gave the rapper until 28 February this year to “file and serve any evidence” for his claim. After Ye failed to do so — or to appoint representation to show up to the hearing at all — McElwaine J dismissed the case and ordered Ye to pay Mr Elkhouri’s costs earlier this month.

“One would have thought if he was seeking to preserve his claims and prosecute this proceeding, he might have thought it necessary to appoint a lawyer to appear before me today. He has not done so,” McElwaine J said.

During the hearing, Mr Elkhouri’s barrister, Craig Smith SC, added that it was obvious “that by this point [Ye] is not interested”.

Outside court following the hearing, Mr Elkhouri told reporters he was still a fan of Kanye West but doesn’t support “this Ye character”.

“Kanye West was — and probably still is — in some ways the inspiration of who I am as a person,” he said.

He also did not confirm how much the legal claim had cost him — and added that the restaurant name could still change.  

“Now that I’m not bullied [in]to do anything about it, perhaps I might change the name, but if I do, it’s on my terms,” Mr Elkhouri added.

Following the dismissal, Lawyers Weekly spoke to Mr Elkhouri’s lawyer, Seoud Solicitors principal Omar Seoud, who spoke very highly of both his client and colleagues.

It was rewarding to work with dedicated counsel Craig Smith SC and Alex Marcou, who truly showed their wares and experience. I had an excellent client, who was very hard working and provided interesting insights (he wasn’t a gold digger),” he mused.

“To be involved in proceedings with Ye, who at the time was in international headlines for all the wrong reasons, was quite exciting as a lot of the people I know were massive fans of Ye’s music. However, the proceeding had to be treated like any other to ensure that the client was given good advice which was unaffected by Ye’s status or that of his previous lawyers.”

The matter is, at this point, completely resolved, according to Mr Seoud — except for the recovery of costs.

We may be embarking on that trek soon,” he added.

“I don’t think Ye’s claim had any merit. I don’t think anyone, at any time, thought that my client’s small burger store in a small suburb of Melbourne was in any way endorsed by Ye. The proceedings were issued after my client tried to placate Ye with all reasonable actions taken to avoid legal proceedings. The proceedings, in my view, should not have been filed.”

This was a unique case for the small firm — and one which Mr Seoud said has a “satisfying” ending.

“We don’t usually act for parties sued by international megastars. We have acted in many David v Goliath matters, especially recently, but only rarely one so high profile.

“We were very thankful to our client for having the faith to retain us to act, despite the reputation and status of our opposition. Our client had offers from many large law firms to act on his behalf, but knew that my sole focus would always be his, and his business’ wellbeing,” he added.

“It was quite satisfying to have a good result for the little guy, especially one being sued by someone who was essentially his idol. It was a small business and small law firm taking on a megastar and a large law firm and coming out successful.”

Lauren Croft

Lauren Croft

Lauren is a journalist at Lawyers Weekly and graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism from Macleay College. Prior to joining Lawyers Weekly, she worked as a trade journalist for media and travel industry publications and Travel Weekly. Originally born in England, Lauren enjoys trying new bars and restaurants, attending music festivals and travelling. She is also a keen snowboarder and pre-pandemic, spent a season living in a French ski resort.

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