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A series of claims filed in New York this month has degraded the mystique surrounding musical superstar Lady Gaga. In just over a year, Lady Gaga has transformed from an obscure singer-songwriter to an international pop star. Despite her popularity, Gaga’s personal life has remained surprisingly mysterious due to her unique and often bizarre outfits, song lyrics, and music videos that set her apart from the common crowd and tabloid culture.
Part of that magical aura has been devalued by allegations in the March 17 lawsuit filed by Rob Fusari, Gaga’s former producer and boyfriend. Fusari alleges that he discovered Stephani Germanotta (Gaga’s given name) in March of 2006 and that he is responsible for her meteoric rise. He alleges that he convinced her to add dance beats to her ballads, created her stage name (from Queen’s song “Radio Gaga”), and co-wrote four of the songs on her debut album The Fame (including the hit “Paparazzi”).
The melodramatic complaint also describes the romantic relationship that blossomed between himself and Gaga. The complaint begins theatrically: “All business is personal. When those personal relationships evolve into romantic entanglements, any corresponding business relationship usually follows the same trajectory so that when one crashes they all burn. That is what happened here.”
The core issues of the lawsuit, however, do not concern matters of the heart, but rather Lady Gaga’s failure to pay Fusari twenty percent of her earnings that she allegedly owed under their agreement. Fusari claims that he attempted to have Gaga sign a standard production agreement in May 2006, but her father refused because he and Gaga had already formed Mermaid Music, Inc. Joe Germanotta, Gaga’s father, proposed they form a third company, Team Love Child LLC (TLC) through which they could both control the “exploitation” of Gaga and her sound recordings. Fusari claims he was given twenty percent ownership of TLC.
In the following months, Gaga was signed to a series of record deals and worked with several other writers and producers. Fusari alleges he was gradually frozen out by Gaga and her father, both of whom eventually refused communication with him entirely. In the end, TLC issued two checks to Fusari for his commission. On the back of the second check, beneath the endorser’s signature line, TLC wrote “Endorsed in Accord and Satisfaction Of All Sums Due to Undersigned.” Fusari claims that the defendants added this endorsement to the back of the check in order to trick him into settling all outstanding debts due. He has refused to endorse or deposit the check.
Lady Gaga filed a counterclaim on March 18 alleging that Fusari’s claims are merely a cover to collect unlawful compensation for services as an unlicensed employment agent: “[the TLC agreement] was structured in such a way as to mask its true purpose–to provide to the defendants unlawful compensation for their services as unlicensed employment agents.” In addition to the suit’s dismissal, Gaga’s lawyers seek damages because Fusari took advantage of an “inexperienced performing artist” in a way that was “predatory and financially abusive.”
Fusari’s lawyer, Robert S. Meloni, called the claim “ludicrous” and wrote in an email to the Associated Press: “Fusari is a PARTNER in the Team Love LLC with Gaga and her father (through their company Mermaid) . . . . Rob was no more of an ‘agent’ for her than she is a Roman Catholic nun.” Fighting words.
The continuing viability of Fusari’s suit will turn on whether he was an unlicensed employment agent, as Gaga alleges, thereby voiding their contract. New York law requires that “[a] person shall not open, keep, maintain or carry on any employment agency . . . unless he shall have first procured a license.” The law further defines a “theatrical employment agency” as “the business of conducting an agency, bureau, office, or any other place for the purpose of procuring or offering . . . engagements . . . or exhibitions or performances . . . but such term does not include the business of managing such entertainments, exhibitions or performances . . . where such business only incidentally involves the seeking of employment therefor.” In Pawlowski v. Woodruff, a New York court held that a musician’s manager did not need a license because he was hired primarily to manage her career; although the manager sought employment for the musician, this was only incidental to the management.
If Fusari can prove that he was primarily responsible for producing and writing Gaga’s songs as a partner in TLC, not for “seek[ing] employment” for Gaga, then perhaps he can prevail in this lawsuit. Gaga, however, may have a strong claim against Fusari for the “exploitation” (in his own words) of an inexperienced singer. The extreme melodrama in Fusari’s complaint, most of which is irrelevant to the merits of his claim, suggests to me that he lacks solid facts and evidence. And he knows it.
It seems an especially inappropriate bid for sympathy that Fusari begins his complaint with a line of poetry by Congreve: “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned,/Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
Gaga sings, “You and me could write a bad romance.” Little did she know that their “bad romance” would be “written” in court documents.
– Anne Goodwyn