Did Justin Timberlake and the rest of 'NSYNC steal someone else's "Girlfriend"?
That's what Pittsburgh musician Ben Freeman is claiming in a lawsuit the group was served with this week. Freeman, who wrote a song called "Be My Girlfriend," says not only are the two versions so similar that copyright-infringement laws were broken, but that his song was actually submitted to 'NSYNC by mutual friends.
Freeman insists "Be My Girlfriend," which he copyrighted in 1995, was presented to the band by original Marcels member Walter Maddox — who helped out a young Christina Aguilera — and producer Joe D'Amico in summer 1999, after Freeman had been told 'NSYNC liked his songs.
But Freeman says he heard nothing further from them about "Be My Girlfriend" until "Girlfriend," the third single from the group's 2001 album, Celebrity, became a hit (see " 'NSYNC Do Drag For 'Girlfriend' Video"). Nelly, who's featured on the song, and the Neptunes, who co-wrote and produced it, are also named in the suit.
Beyond their mutual connections, Freeman claims the songs share obvious similarities in their production styles, titles and lyrics. Both tracks coax females into becoming the singer's girlfriend, but no other lyrics — aside from the enticement "Be my girlfriend" — are an exact match.
Freeman insists he only became aware of 'NSYNC's "Girlfriend" when his sister-in-law alerted him in 2003 that they were performing it at the Grammys. But the boy band actually sang a Bee Gees tribute at the event, having already performed "Girlfriend" the year prior (see "Eminem Delivers Rousing 'Lose Yourself,' Clash Get A-List Tribute At Grammys" and "Mary J. Fights The Drama, Outkast Fight For Attention On Grammy Stage").
None of that would matter, except that Freeman has admitted there's a statute of limitations for filing his claim. When asked why he waited three years to file, he said he couldn't get a lawyer to take the case, despite inquiring in Pittsburgh, Maryland, New York and Florida. He finally chose to file the lawsuit pro se in mid-February in a Manhattan federal court because the statute was running out that month, based on when he originally became aware that he could have a basis for a claim. Whether 'NSYNC performed the song in 2002 or 2003, he said, "would affect the case tremendously."
Freeman also claims copyright infringement of his song "Too Far Away," which he says 'NSYNC remade as "Gone" after Maddox submitted it to the group. Maddox, however, has said the only song he ever passed along to 'NSYNC was a different Freeman track, "Take Your Time," despite having signed a statement before about submitting all three Freeman songs. After "Gone" and "Girlfriend," Freeman said, 'NSYNC went from being a bubblegum pop group to incorporating R&B. "That right there proves what I'm saying," he said. "They changed their style."
'NSYNC's label spokesperson said it doesn't comment on pending litigation, but 'NSYNC lawyer Helene Freeman (no relation to Ben) released this statement last month: " 'NSYNC unequivocally denies the allegations contained in the complaint. The group intends to vigorously defend itself and expects to prevail."