Born To Sue
Bruce Springsteen's lame effort to back out of a copyright lawsuit.
It was a classic piece of music industry journalism: Rapacious Big Music beats up on hapless Little Guy, with The Artist, who just wants to make ars gratia artis, caught in the middle.
This time, Big Music was ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, which collects licensing royalties for songwriters, composers, and music publishers. The Little Guy was a humble Irish bar called Connolly's Pub & Restaurant. And The Artist was none other than New Jersey's own "rock & roll working-class hero," Bruce Springsteen.
As first reported by the New York Daily News, The Boss sued Connolly's last week for copyright infringement after the bar allegedly failed to obtain a license from ASCAP to publicly perform his songs, including "Growin' Up" and "Because the Night." But shortly after the story about the lawsuit broke, Springsteen's flacks claimed it was all a big misunderstanding, blamed ASCAP, and said he was ditching the suit.
"ASCAP was solely responsible for naming Bruce Springsteen as a plaintiff in the lawsuit," said a Feb. 4 statement from his PR reps at Shore Fire Media. "Bruce Springsteen had no knowledge of this lawsuit, was not asked if he would participate as a named plaintiff, and would not have agreed to do so if he had been asked. Upon learning of this lawsuit this morning, Bruce Springsteen's representatives demanded the immediate removal of his name from the lawsuit."
Sorry, Boss, but if you say you really believe all that, then it won't be you that's on fire—it will be your pants. And since small-time songwriters rely on big-timers like you to enforce these copyright protections, you shouldn't try to back out of this lawsuit anyway. (As of this writing, Springsteen still hadn't withdrawn.)
Update, Feb. 10, 2010: Bruce has indeed bailed from the lawsuit. On Feb. 5, just two days after the suit was originally filed, Springsteen's lawyers filed a first amended complaint, which omits all reference to The Boss and his songs. Left alone to fight against Connolly's is (the late) Clinton C. Ballard Jr., whose song "You're No Good" was allegedly played at Connolly's without permission.
Contrary to Springsteen's protestations, ASCAP is not freelancing here. In fact, Springsteen—like all members of the 96-year-old organization—has given ASCAP explicit permission to file lawsuits in his name against noncompliant venues. Paragraph 4 of the ASCAP Membership Agreement states that members:
irrevocably ... authorize, empower and vest in the Society the right to ... litigate … and in its sole judgment to join the [member] and/or others in whose names the copyright may stand, as parties plaintiff or defendants in suits or proceedings; [and] to bring suit in the name of the [member] ….
Ben Sheffner is an attorney in Los Angeles and a former newspaper reporter. He blogs at Copyrights & Campaigns.
Photograph of Bruce Springsteen by Roger Kisby/Getty Images.