NEW YORK — What obligations do co-songwriters owe to one another? Can one idea that is similar to another be used for a song without creating any legal obligations to the original idea-man?
These are some of the questions raised in a lawsuit filed Nov. 5 by James Jess Brown in the Chancery Court in Nashville. Brown, who claims 34 recorded songs to his credit, sued Tony Lane and his publisher, Famous Music, over “Letters From Home,” the title track to John Michael Montgomery’s album. The track is credited to co-writers Lane and David Lee.
Brown’s suit does not allege that Lane infringed any copyright interest. Instead, he asserts that Lane used Brown’s “idea or hook [that] involved specific letters written by Brown’s now-deceased father to his mother during a time of war when Brown’s father was stationed abroad.”
The suit says that Brown followed his customary procedure of taking notes of his writing sessions. The notes reflect that this subject and lyrics were proposed to Lane for their collaboration. However, they moved on to another project and did not complete the composition.
Brown bases his legal claims on the writers’ pre-existing relationship over a six-year period during which they co-wrote 14 compositions, his attorney J. Carson Stone says. The suit contends that their dealings established a fiduciary relationship, creating a responsibility on their parts to protect each other’s financial well-being and to maintain ideas as confidential information — not to be shared with anyone, including a publisher.
The suit also includes claims for breach of contract, misrepresentation, fraud and conversion.
Lane and Famous Music declined to comment at this time.