copyright infringment

I have written and recorded a song which has been plagiarized by a major recording artist. I have spent thousands of dollars working with attorneys trying to find one who will take my case on a contingency basis - they all see merit in the case, but turn it down because they don’t have the resources to fight this publisher (Warner Chapel/Buena Vista/Disney), or they have a conflict of interest. I know how the writers could have easily heard my song - several years ago, an Elektra recording artist recorded a derivative version of it and it received quite a lot of international play. The co-writers of the plagiarized version were around this Elekta artist and his group of writers at the time. I have a report from one of the top musicologists in the country who spells out in 8 pages that there is ample reason to claim copyright infringement , and who has committed to act as an expert witness on my behalf should this finally land in court. I am out of funds and nearing the end of the statute of limitations for this case, but I just cannot let it go. Does anyone know how I should proceed to file suit myself? I am in PA, the publisher is in CA, and at least 25 million units of this song have been sold throughout the world. I sincerely appreciate any help anyone can give me - I can’t afford to make any more mistakes.

I would contact Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts – they can at least get you started.

Thank you so much!!! Will check them out right now!!!

I will just give this a slight bump in case someone else has an idea to help you.

Another option is law school clinics. In these programs, law students will work on your case under the supervision of attorneys. Legal services provided through school clinics are free of charge.
Arts, Sports & Entertainment Law Clinic At Penn State Dickinson School of Law
Civil Practice Clinic at University of Pennsylvania Law School

Thanks for this - called Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts today, and they only handle cases for NY residents. Worth a try though - they sound great. Will give the clinics a shout tomorrow. Again, thanks!

All ideas welcome - Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts didn’t pan out, because they only work with NY residents. Thanks for thinking about this!

A different tact would be to try to convince a local news outlet to cover your story. If you can convince them that the big bad record companies and lawyers are tromping all over a hard-working artisan, perhaps they’d do a piece (“at 11!”). A little publicity could lead to community support or possibly pro bono representation.

It is possible that school is not in session – if so, law schools will be stating up in 2-3 weeks at the latest. Usually there’s at least someone in the clinic offices you can speak to though.

Good thought - thanks!

I can’t believe those jerks – I mean stressed out volunteers – at VLA-NY didn’t tell you there’s a Pennsylvania branch based in Pittsburgh:

If you want to proceed to file suit without an attorney, you can start here. That is a packet instructing litigants on how to file suit in the federal court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. That may or may not be your court (I don’t know your location). Choose whatever federal court is most convenient for you–most will have a similar packet to guide you. Your local district will likely have jurisdiction over the defendant (assuming your claim is, in fact, a copyright claim against a major distributer).

Obviously your chances of making it to trial, much less winning, are pretty slim if you’re pro se against a major corporation. So keep looking for a lawyer. One other consideration, in addition to Hello Again’s suggestions, is to find someone at a major firm willing to take the case pro bono. Just google some major law firms in your area, look up profiles on associates who have an interest in copyright law, and make some phone calls (or e-mails). Not too likely to work, but worth a shot.

Good luck.

Thanksyou Richard for the excellent advice. I am in Western PA (Erie), so that packet is just what I needed. Hope to still locate a lawyer, and I will keep beating the bushes for one as I study how to do this myself. One attorney here told me that justice and law are rarely the same thing, but I have to believe that the truth will out somehow. Thanks again!

Hello again! Thanks so much for this - I can’t believe they didn’t communicate that to me, either! Will keep you posted on my progress with the Pittsburgh group!

If you end up having to go pro se, further research on the rules of court can be done here and here.

Another excellent and generally free research tool is your local law librarian. Some law schools have libraries that are open to the public, and the law librarian can help you find books containing the relevant statutes and case law you’ll need to read (just make sure you tell them you’re looking for general copyright law information and not legal advice).

Finally, if you can’t find an attorney willing to take the case on a contingent fee basis, you can probably find one willing to put in just a couple of hours for you on an hourly fee. Since it costs $350 just to file your complaint (though you may be able to get the fee waived), it’s probably worth buying an hour of some attorney’s time to review the complaint before filing.

Here’s hoping you don’t have to go it alone.

If you’re really that good, why not write & record another 25-million-seller song?

Rather than waste years in the legal field (which is not where your talents lie), invest your time in the music field.

Is this a whoosh? Songwriters spend their lives trying to get just one hit, not to mention two.

Because if he really is the victim of copyright infringement, he should have his rights vindicated.

Would never presume to say I was that good - don’t think I said that. I do write every day - I’ve written hundreds of published titles - some work pays some work doesn’t. Don’t know what your situation is, you may not understand - the music business, songwriting in particular is not a day at the beach. It’s a very tough business with more ups and downs than most people realize. You’re lucky to get work placed, even luckier to be fairly compensated without someone sticking their hand in your pocket. While you rob Peter to Paul’s gas bill, and struggle to keep your children fed, if someone lifts your work and makes millions on it - what do you do? Just write another 25-million-seller song? Trying to do that is like staring at a dim star in the night sky - try to focus on it, and it disappears. Best to remain true to yourself, pick up what technique you can along the way and keep writing. If you have a method for writing hits, perhaps you could descend from on high and share it with us?

The song didn’t sell itself. Recording, marketing and promoting a song is a hell of a lot more work (and more expensive) than you think.

There’s no requirement that you file a federal suit where you live. You are more likely to find an attorney in Manhattan or LA who is experienced in entertainment and intellectual property law. More likely, too, that someone with that kind of experience would consider taking the case on contingency. I’m sure you could find a handful willing to discuss the outlines of your case over the phone.