Taylor Hicks Files Suit To Halt Digital Release Of Early Recordings

'American Idol' winner granted temporary restraining order; tracks remain available on iTunes.

Search for Taylor Hicks tracks on iTunes, and you'll find four cuts available for download.

There's the "American Idol" winner's version of the Doobie Brothers' "Takin' It to the Streets" and his first post-"Idol" studio recording, the single "Do I Make You Proud" (see "Taylor Hicks Includes Doobie Brothers Tune On First Single "). And there are two other songs Hicks' fans may not recognize: "Son of a Carpenter" and "In Your Time." Both songs were written and recorded by the ashen-haired crooner nine years ago — and Hicks evidently doesn't want them sold right now.

Those latter tracks, along with another Hicks creation titled "The Fall" (which Hicks penned and put to tape in 1997), are at the heart of a lawsuit filed by the singer's attorneys Tuesday in Alabama's U.S. District Court. The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $75,000 and claims ownership of the allegedly illegally-released tunes.

According to the suit, music producer William Smith, who owns and operates Nashville's William Smith Productions Inc., released and profited from the three songs through iTunes; "The Fall" is no longer available at the online retailer, but was being offered for sale last week. The filing claims Smith distributed the songs despite the fact that he has no legal ownership claim to them.

Hicks' lawyers were first made aware of the situation by Smith himself, the suit claims. Smith contacted the attorneys, stating his intention to release the tracks. They responded by seeking a preliminary injunction barring Smith from selling the songs. The lawsuit maintains that Smith made no attempt to pull them from the iTunes store. Last week, both sides entered into a settlement — the terms of which are not outlined in the suit. Soon after, Smith once again e-mailed Hicks' counsel, stating that he would be releasing "The Fall" for digital download, and would make the other two tracks available as well.

The lawsuit was filed to spare Hicks from "suffering irreparable financial harm and harm to his reputation in the entertainment industry" and seeks injunctions against Smith, claiming he breached the terms of last week's settlement through his "fallacious pursuit to release songs in which [he has] no rights or ownership." The suit makes no mention of just how Smith got his hands on the tracks. But in an interview with MTV News, Smith said he recorded the tracks with a handful of session musicians when Hicks auditioned for him in 2001. Smith added that he shopped the songs to 15 different labels, but none expressed an interest in signing the then-unknown singer.

When asked who owns the Hicks tracks, Smith said, "That's what the court is going to have to determine." He declined further comment.

According to the suit, Hicks hopes to recover some of the money Smith earned from the downloads, as well as all related legal expenditures. The singer's attorneys subsequently filed for a temporary restraining order to prevent Smith from selling the songs, and Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins granted it on Tuesday. The songs remained available on iTunes until late Thursday afternoon, but they've since been removed.

In an e-mail to Hicks' attorneys last month, which appears as an exhibit within the filing, Smith announced he wanted to market the track "The Fall," and that "anything in [Hicks'] past that would reflect negatively upon him will stay there," so long as the singer didn't "go negative" against him. Smith told TheSmokingGun.com that he wouldn't dream of sullying Hicks' reputation, but added that he has turned down five-figure offers from various tabloids to discuss the singer's past.

A hearing has yet to be set to consider the suit. Hicks' attorney Michael Douglas said the tracks Smith has been selling via iTunes appeared on an album his client released back in 1997 called In Your Time. Therefore, the tracks were copyrighted, leaving Smith on some pretty shaky legal ground. "We feel we have a strong case and it's just an unfortunate situation," Douglas said. "We feel we have a strong legal stance in the matter."

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