Robert Meloni, a lawyer for Victory Records, claimed that the lawsuit filed against the label by Hawthorne Heights last month was part of "the oldest trick in the book": an artist suing the label that discovered them in order to jump to a bigger one.
That's the scenario laid out in a countersuit filed in Illinois federal court by Victory late last week, in which the label denies the claims in a suit filed by the group a month ago (see "Hawthorne Heights Sue Victory Records, Say They've Been 'Abused' "). That suit alleged fraud and underpayment and sought termination of the band's contract with the label.
Victory's countersuit, filed on Friday, accuses the band of breach of contract and libel against the label for a lengthy "manifesto" that Hawthorne Heights posted on their Web site. The post slammed the label's alleged promotion tactics and accused it of "severely" damaging the band's reputation and relationship with its fans.
The suit denies the band's claims that label CEO Tony Brummel suggested to Victory's street-promotion teams that they visit retail outlets and hide R&B singer Ne-Yo's album In My Own Words (released the same day as Hawthorne Heights' most recent LP, If Only You Were Lonely) so that HH's album would debut higher on sales charts. The suit also denies claims that the band has been undercompensated for its album sales, and that the band owns its master recordings.
"The case filed by the plaintiffs in this action is really about greed, despite the unfounded and spurious laundry list of allegations made concerning Victory Records ... and its founder and owner, Anthony Brummel, who are responsible for putting the group on the map," reads the label's counterclaim. "The plaintiffs are now willing to say anything — no matter how untrue or defamatory — as a strategy designed to free themselves from their legal obligations to the independent record label that made them famous, in favor of the 'greener pastures' and financial inducements offered by so-called 'major' record distribution companies. Unfortunately, it is a common story in the music business."
Meloni confirmed to MTV News that he sent a cease-and-desist letter to Virgin Records and its parent company, EMI, last week concerning their discussions with Hawthorne Heights. A spokesperson for the company could not be reached for comment at press time.
The suit paints a picture of a band that "dogged" Brummel for months with multiple demo tapes, e-mails and phone calls before being signed in 2003. It claims that the band has earned $4 million on concerts and merchandise independent of Victory since it signed with the label — earnings the label did not share — and that Hawthorne Heights have been actively seeking a major label recording contract, despite owing Victory two more albums. The label also asserts that it owns the rights to the master recordings of the two albums the band has delivered so far, and to the trademark on the name Hawthorne Heights.
In reference to the "manifesto" the band posted on its site, the suit claims that it has severely damaged Victory's reputation in the industry and has "demoralized" its staff.
A spokesperson for Hawthorne Heights could not be reached for comment at press time.
The countersuit does not specify an amount of damages the label seeks, but Meloni told MTV News, "Essentially, they don't make any claims that have any legal merit" in their lawsuit.
[This story was originally published at 1:58 p.m. ET on 09.13.2006]