Back again to the New York Times piece about the songwriter who claimed a song was stolen from her, was right, and won her case.
It occurs to me now that this plaintiff, who acted pro se [for herself, i.e., without a lawyer], seemed not to trust anyone and anything about the litigation process. Most unfortunately, she did not trust the righteousness of her case. She had written a song, promoted it and was shocked when she heard what was essentially her song performed on the radio, but with a different name.
She knew she was right. But her subsequent behavior was antagonistic to the legal process she had entered as an appropriate route to justice. She didn’t trust “the system,” and she didn’t trust herself. In the course of the process she attempted to manage, she lost significant aspects of her case, on the road to winning it.
Here are a few more things she did that were, to put it mildly, counterproductive:
- As I mentioned before, she didn’t serve copies of the complaint on all the defendants she named, so the judge allowed some of those defendants to get out of the case. Maybe those defendants had some responsibility for ripping off her song, and maybe they could have come up with settlement money.
- Early on, one of the defendant’s lawyers offered her a settlement. She could not be persuaded. And maybe she shouldn’t have accepted at that point, but it seems to me that she did not have a realistic objective in pursuing the case. That is exactly what a lawyer would have given her. A lawyer may not have thought she should accept a settlement at that stage, but at least the plaintiff would have been given an understanding of the parameters and possibilities.
- She would not provide “discovery materials to the defense.” I find this inexplicable. In any lawsuit, both sides exchange written discovery demands, and while there is plenty of argument about how much should be turned over (in my experience, it’s the defendants who do most of the objecting), you do need to turn stuff over. In my case against the Skush-O’Briens, when my lawyer sent me their discovery demands, I was eager to compile all the documents I had: they were solid evidence for my case. All I can imagine is that this plaintiff songwriter was (irrationally) fearful that the defendants would further cheat her, in some way. But the discovery process itself, as implemented by lawyers and refereed by a judge, erects a sort of protective shield over these documents. It isn’t as if a plaintiff turns over the original documents without keeping copies. I just can’t understand what she thought she was doing. And so the judge imposed sanctions on her, for failing to respond — $13,000 in legal fees the defendants’ lawyers had charged their clients for the work they had to do in arguing about this failure to turn over documents. So while, in the end, the plaintiff won, her foolish behavior at this necessary stage of the process needlessly brought about a really pricey loss.
- Eventually, a judge, Katherine B. Forrest, resolved the case, simply by listening to the two songs “repeatedly.” She found “‘unmistakable and substantial similarities'” between the two songs. And then it was the judge who had to evaluate whatever evidence she had to demonstrate that one defendant had indeed had access to the song. So the judge was doing the work that the plaintiff had, in essence, refused to do — to prove her own case.
Good judge and the legal process worked, somehow. But what a mess. What a foolish plaintiff.
Lessons for all of us:
- Trust the righteousness of your case and
- Trust the process by which you will be asking for justice.
- Hire a lawyer; do not do it yourself.
- Listen to your lawyer’s advice. Ask questions. Reason through everything you learn.
- Do not offend everybody with whom you come in contact.
- Just imagine how your behavior and your court file will read if Benjamin Weiser at the New York Times gets hold of it for a story.