As the music world awaits the impending release of four CDs'
worth of unissued Bruce Springsteen material, two New Jersey
companies have filed suit against the state's music hero in federal
The suit alleges that the "Boss," as Springsteen is often
known, has illegally blocked the companies from selling a disc
of his demos, to which they claim they own the rights.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J., contends that Springsteen has used his position as an industry superstar to discredit the work, asserting to distributors that the Pony Express Records release Before the Fame is a bootleg album.
Michael Esposito, owner of the 4-year-old Pony Express Records and its sister publishing company, JEC Music, both of Bloomfield, N.J., is seeking $3.2 million in damages -- $100,000 for each of the 13 songs on Before the Fame plus 19 other tunes which the company plans to release in the future. Esposito says he's owned the rights to all 32 songs for three years.
Springsteen allegedly transferred the publishing and sound-recording rights to the songs to his early manager Jim Cretecos in a songwriting agreement that is reproduced on the cover of Before the Fame, according to Esposito. Pony Express bought the rights from Cretecos (who co-produced the Boss' debut, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. ) in 1995 and, that same year, registered the material as copyrighted with the Library of Congress.
"The lawsuit is to finally get a firm declaration of ownership," said Frank Cozzarelli, attorney for the plaintiffs. "Springsteen has created confusion in the marketplace about the ownership, merely by the strength of his name -- and that's no 'mere' hurdle to overcome because of who he is."
Neither representatives from Springsteen's publicity firm, Shore Fire Media, nor his attorney, Steven Hayes, returned calls as of press time Wednesday (Sept. 30).
The lawsuit comes at a time when Springsteen's fanbase has been abuzz with talk about upcoming activities. While Columbia Records' planned four-disc box set, Tracks, has not yet been officially announced by Springsteen's camp, the release has been confirmed by Columbia's parent company, Sony Music, in Canada and Italy. Those who have seen promotional materials for the album say it is now due Nov. 10.
Earlier this month, Springsteen was nominated (without his famed cohorts, the E Street Band) for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, in December, Avon Books will publish a hardcover book of the Boss' lyrics and commentary, "Bruce Springsteen: Songs."
Except for one song recorded with the E Street Band ("Evacuation of the West"), the 32 songs in question, including those on Before the Fame, primarily come from Springsteen's acoustic sessions in 1972, the year before he made his debut with Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. The songs, including the tracks "Prodigal Son," "Marie" and "Randolph Street," were captured on tape as copyright demos. While some of the songs were written beforehand, others were created on the spot, Esposito said.
"The content on some of the lyrics came at a time that Bruce's life was going through somewhat of a roller coaster, both from his career standpoint and his family standpoint," he said. "There's a song called 'Family Song' where he discloses things about his family and some things on other songs, such as interracial dating, that in 1972 were a little
One avid Springsteen fan who has heard the album said Before the Fame's appeal lays primarily with completist collectors.
"At times it can be interesting to the fan who wants little stepping-stones in Bruce's career," said Joe Schwind, 39. "But very rarely is it entertaining. The quantity is there -- you get ideas being thrown out by the gazillion -- [but] the quality isn't. It's clear that these songs are very unfocused."
Springsteen's interference with the release has been subtle, said Cozzarelli, who added that no American music-distributor will carry the album. "His lawyers have corresponded with any distributor who we've done business with," he said. "They've instituted litigation against our licensees in Europe."
Before the Fame has, however, made it to store shelves in Japan, where it has sold several thousand copies, Cozzarelli said. The disc is also available online through the www.beforethefame.com website. Springsteen has been sent royalties from all overseas licensing, which he has refused, according to Esposito.
The Pony Express owner said his company plans to release the other 19 songs in its possession after the current lawsuit is settled. A hearing date for the case has not yet been set.
While Springsteen has long claimed that bootleg releases take advantage of his fans' ardent support with inferior recordings, Esposito said there is nothing for the Boss to be ashamed of on Before the Fame.
"We have attempted to do justice by Bruce by digitally remastering these things at a very large cost to our company, to get the best possible quality," he said. "It won't do anything to embarrass Bruce at all, especially in light of the fact that Bruce went back to this sound [on the 1995 folk album] The Ghost of Tom Joad."