I’ve recently filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court that has led to a flurry of press and commentary in the blogosphere. The facts in dispute involve a world premiere of the work of my client, contemporary classical composer Nathan Currier, called Gaian Variations, which, I am sure, was a labour of love for my client showing his dedication to issues surrounding climate change as expressed in the Gaia Theory of James Lovelock.
The problem is, as is stated in the legal pleadings filed in court, that Nathan Currier, who signed a contract with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra management for a three hour performance of his approximately two hour long work, did not get what he had bargained for. The New York Times stated in a scathing review of the piece that the composer did not seem to know when to end the piece, but this is because the orchestra did not perform the whole piece as alleged in the complaint that was filed in the Clerk’s Office in Kings County.
Many are not aware of this fact, but journalists often cull articles from filed lawsuits. As luck would have it, the reporter who was following litigation in Brooklyn Supreme for the New York Post, Alex Ginsberg, took an interest in the suit, partly, he explained to me, because his parents are both professional musicians and he was knowledgeable regarding union rules, the ways orchestras work and had read my pleadings in detail.
We arranged for a telephone interview with my client and me on the line. These kinds of interviews always make me nervous because a client may inadvertently end up saying things that damage a case. But I was quite confident that Mr. Currier, a very professional composer and teacher, could present his opinion and reaction without delving too much beyond the pleadings into what we call in law, “the merits of the case”.
Well, the article was released online and published in the daily New York Post on April 13, 2009 on page 17 next to an article about the new puppy at the White House. That article, which was more than twice the size of my client’s piece was titled, “Leader of the Flea World”. Now I know the Post is in the business (now often very difficult) of selling newspapers and it is not known for its in depth journalistic reportage. However, I would say that the article (which did not mention my name) was a fairly accurate representation of my pleadings as filed to the extent that such a short article could do such a situation justice. It is very difficult to succinctly sum up legal disputes, something all us lawyers learn in law school, facts seem to multiply and issues sprout up which may not even be in the alleged facts of a case. A journalistic piece may not state all the facts as pleaded and that may make an improper impression. Is there much one can do about that? Press freedom being what it is, it is hard to control the press.
The next day the article was picked up by UPI, United Press International, and then a number of blogs reprinted it or quoted the wire service summary or the New York Post article. A few local papers, such as The Brooklyn Paper (the only other paper to interview us) and the Brooklyn Eagle published short summaries of the case. Some of the blogs (and comments therein) were very sympathetic to my client’s plight, others seem astounded that anyone would sue an orchestra that had even badly performed part of a creator’s work.
The astounding thing was that some of the commentary misstated the alleged facts, or drew erroneous conclusions, i.e. that my client’s career had been permanently ruined. True, the failed performance had a negative impact on him, but to his credit he has returned to creating music of a very high caliber having recently received prizes and awards which show the depth of his talent and virtuosity.
What to do about these comments? We felt the best thing would be to send out our own press release and for me to try and counter some of what we considered the negative publicity stemming from the media coverage; to set the record straight, so to speak, as best we could, so that the press (which now is in the hands of bloggers as much as journalists) could provide something of a more balanced view to the readers of the press and blogosphere.