The Ballad of the Stolen Lyrics

Janice Leverett learned early on the value of intellectual property,when a song she wrote as a teenager was stolen from her

Published in 2006 Texas Rising Stars Magazine — March 2006

It is the teenage girl’s ultimate dream: to write a song for her singing idol and then have that idol actually record the song. And it happened to Janice Leverett — only the results weren’t exactly as she had dreamed.
 
“I was young, just 15 years old,” Leverett recalls. “I really liked this one singer’s voice, and I figured if you like someone, you write them a song, submit it and hope he’ll sing your lyrics on the radio. I also thought if a singer used my words I’d get paid.”
 
Leverett had never written song lyrics before, but she had written poetry, lots of it. As co-editor of her high school literary magazine, she’d shown her work to schoolmates and teachers. One day a friend read one of Leverett’s poems and suggested they might make good song lyrics. “I thought about it, and then I imagined the kind of song my words would work with,” Leverett says. “I came up with one singer I thought might appreciate them and I stuck them in an envelope and sent them off.”
 
As it turns out, Leverett’s lyrics were used, but she never got credit — or cash — for them. The song became a hit. For a few months, the shy girl who “loves music but didn’t really know how to play any instrument” heard words that she had written almost every time she turned on the radio.
 
“It was the strangest sensation,” Leverett recalls. “I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.”
 
Though she tried countless times to contact representatives for the singer — whom she refuses to name, even to this day — Leverett says she never saw any income from the deal. The frustrating experience inspired her to learn all she could about copyright protection. She promised herself that when she grew up she’d try to keep the same thing from ever happening to anyone else.
 
“When I first heard that song on the radio, the words were changed a little bit from the ones I had sent, but the text was basically mine,” Leverett says. “When I wrote those words, I never thought that someday I might have to prove I wrote them. I just sent them in with an address and a phone number but nothing else. I was a kid. I trusted [the singer]. Now I know that there are a lot of people you can’t trust. That’s partly why I became a lawyer.”
 
Leverett often likes to remind herself that thanks to technology, fewer and fewer people end up in the situation that she did when she was 15.
 
“Today, people are better aware of how to protect themselves in these situations,” she says. “I’m constantly hearing stories like that of a guy who had submitted music to a music contest and then later heard five to 10 seconds of his work in a Madonna song. He was able to prove that it was his music and he won a huge settlement. Even almost 20 years later I was like, ‘Ugh. I wish that had been me.’”
 
Being burned as a songwriter isn’t the only reason Leverett, 33, became a lawyer. A woman of diverse interests and impressive intellect, she looked for a way to combine her scientific and artistic sides in one career. She graduated from St. Mary’s University with an engineering degree and began a brief career as a software engineer. She soon discovered that creative engineers faced the same problems creative musicians faced — people stole their work. She decided a law degree was the best way to protect creative people with ideas. So she left the software engineering business to enroll in St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio.
 
Along with her solo practice, Leverett works as an attorney/software developer for ProDoc, a legal document assembly software company based in nearby Universal City. It’s a great fit.
 
“Somehow all the pieces just fell together for me,” Leverett says. “I’ve never really wanted to stick with just one thing, and this job allows me to be a little bit of everything.”
 
Leverett is a self-described “diverse-minded person,” a trait she credits her parents with cultivating. “My mother is Puerto Rican, my father is French and African American. He also has some American-Indian blood. My family has a very diverse culture, so everything was left open in our house.” Musically, her parents encouraged their children to listen to a wide variety of genres, and Leverett still does. “Country, R&B, hip-hop, pop, classical: I don’t want to be limited to just one,” she says. “The one rule my mother was adamant about was that both of her daughters get a solid education. After that, she let it all hang loose.”
 
Leverett calls writing lyrics and producing music her avocation. The law, she says, is her “happy vocation.” She’s currently writing songs for Jason Armstrong, an Oklahoma-based producer of instrumental tracks. “Any pure lyricist who wants to work is going to have to find an instrumentalist or a producer to work with,” Leverett explains.
 
The duo produces the songs, records demos (Leverett sings on some, her sister on others) and then markets them to artists, through contests and independent connections. They’ve yet to hit the big time with any well-known singers, but Leverett says they have recently made connections with representatives for the R&B super-group Destiny’s Child. “It’s a long shot, I’ll admit,” Leverett says, “but we’re willing to head down any road that’s open to us.”
 
Even Leverett’s legal projects reflect her wide-ranging personal interests. “A few years back, I worked on patents for some of the new Ford hybrid vehicles,” she says. “I love working with all the innovations in technology and engineering. Now I’m representing this amazing Dallas-based musician, a guy named Ducado Vega.” Vega, who usually performs under the name Ducado, specializes in music with a funk-rock feel, a sound reminiscent of Prince, Jimi Hendrix and Lenny Kravitz. As Ducado’s personal attorney, Leverett reviews and negotiates contracts, protects her client’s copyright status and works with record labels.
 
“This is great work for me,” Leverett says. “I’m feeding my interest in music — and practicing law.”
 
Leverett’s next gig may be her most demanding thus far. She and her husband are expecting their first child in February. “I’m still just wrapping my mind around this one,” she says. “I have a feeling that pretty soon I might not have much time to devote to writing lyrics — but then again, I might have a new source of inspiration.”
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