Hawkins's lawsuit is matter of principle

Singer-songwriter seeks to protect works put out on her own label

April 12, 2004|By Randy Lewis | Randy Lewis,LOS ANGELES TIMES

A long with renters fighting landlords over security deposits and motorists seeking restitution for botched brake jobs, small claims court in Santa Monica, Calif., tomorrow will become an unlikely playing field in the battle over unauthorized distribution of music.

Singer-songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins will ask a judge to award her $324, the total three fans paid for three leaked copies of her forthcoming album Wilderness that were sold by an eBay vendor months before the official release date of April 20.

"If I win, I'm sending the money to the fans" who bought the unauthorized CDs, Hawkins said Thursday. "It's scary to do this, because when you go to court anything can happen. But this was the only thing that made me feel good."

Hawkins heard from fans in December about an advance copy of Wilderness, her first release for her own record label, being auctioned on eBay for $300, and that additional copies were being listed.

After advising eBay officials that the CDs were promotional copies not for sale, she said, they canceled the additional auctions. Yet despite a cease-and-desist letter from her lawyer, the seller contacted bidders independently and sold two more copies for $12 each.

"I don't care about the $324, although to some of my fans that's a lot of money," she said. "I felt like [suing in small claims court] was the best of all the bad choices. I decided not to go after the big bucks and get a bunch of lawyers and sue for thousands for copyright infringement.

"I wanted to make this about what it really was about," said Hawkins, who lives in Santa Monica. "It's a weird thing. I was not wanting to be on a major label, but now I understand what major labels are going through.

"This happened with my third record, Timber, where two of them sold [on eBay before being released] for $300 each. But I was on a major label then. I figured they'd deal with it, and I had other things on my mind.

"But I paid for this record with my own money, and I'm promoting it with my own money. I've put all my savings into it.

"When I found out about this, I thought, `This is going to ruin everything.' I'm not stressed about the one or two CDs here; I had to make a statement. I think more artists should take a stand."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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