An attorney for Steve Wallace (search) of Anderson filed a complaint May 5 in federal court against Spears, her album promoter, Sony/BMG (search) Music Publishing Inc., and recording and publishing companies affiliated with the singer.
The complaint acknowledges Wallace did not formally copyright his song until 2003. A few weeks after writing the song in 1990, he executed what's commonly known as a "poor man's" copyright: He placed his work in a sealed envelope and obtained a postmark. He shopped the song around to publishers in 1994 and submitted it to a lyric contest in Pennsylvania in 1997.
Wallace also submitted as an exhibit a copy of what he claims is an e-mail from Spears in which she wrote: "I now know for a fact that you wrote sometimes. But there's nothing I can do about it. That's all I can say about it." It's not clear from the copy when Spears allegedly wrote the e-mail.
Spears, 23, obtained a U.S. copyright for "Sometimes" on Jan. 22, 1999. It appeared on her 1999 debut album, "... Baby One More Time" and on last year's "Greatest Hits: My Prerogative."
The lyrics of the song sung by Spears are nearly identical to those written by Wallace, a side-by-side comparison submitted as evidence shows.
Wallace, 34, who writes pop, country and gospel songs, suffers from dystonia, a neurological disorder that results in tremors at times, and prevents him from talking, said his attorney, John Ritchison.
Ritchison said he tried to settle the dispute out of court, seeking recognition and licensing or payments for Wallace. Spears' attorneys replied with a one-page document denying Wallace's claim, he said.
"The New York guys decided the Indiana local boy didn't have much moxie," Ritchison said, referring to himself. "It's real difficult to get them to belly up to the bar."
Spears' publicity office referred calls Wednesday to Sony/BMG executive Wade Leak, who said it would have no comment on the lawsuit.
The complaint does not specify the damages Wallace is seeking — other than $150,000 for each instance in which Wallace's copyright was infringed upon.
"It's real difficult when you're on the other end of it to understand what a reasonable amount is," Ritchison said.