Calif. bill seeks to resolve recording industry spat

By Sue Zeidler LOS ANGELES, June 18 (Reuters) - One day after the Dixie Chicks settled a major lawsuit with their record label, a California legislative

By Sue Zeidler

LOS ANGELES, June 18 (Reuters) - One day after the DixieChicks settled a major lawsuit with their record label, aCalifornia legislative committee moved a bill on Tuesdaydesigned to encourage other angry music stars to settle similargripes with the industry as a whole.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee passed a modifiedversion of a bill introduced by state Sen. Kevin Murray whichwould set new limits on the contracts that the recordingindustry signs with its top performers.

The bill was the result of lobbying by the RecordingArtists Coalition (RAC), led by stars like Don Henley, SherylCrow and the Dixie Chicks, who banded together against anexemption in California's state labor code that allows recordcompanies to contractually bind artists to labels for more thanseven years, unlike film and movie talent.

Artists like Courtney Love and the Dixie Chicks have filed lawsuits challenging the validity of their recordingcontracts, calling them unconstitutional.

But the Dixie Chicks settled their lawsuit this week andLove is currently involved in court-ordered mediateddiscussions.

David Altschul, an attorney representing the RecordingIndustry Association of America (RIAA), said the version of thebill approved by the committee was "designed to encourage bothsides to engage in discussions and resolve differences."

"We've been engaged in discussions, but its a complicatedprocess. We've made a lot of headway and we're hopeful andconfident that we'll resolve the issues," Altschul said.

Murray, for his part, said the legislation would ensurethat progress is made one way or another.

"I'm pleased that issue moves forward. I'm not holding awhole lot of hope they'll resolve anything," he said.

The bill now moves to the state Senate floor and from thereon to the Assembly.


Both the bill and the talks come as some of the bigger actsinvolved in the dispute appear to be participating insettlements or settlement discussions with RIAA members.

The RIAA represents all the big labels, includingBertelsmann AG , EMI Group Plc , AOL TimeWarner Inc , Vivendi Universal and Sony Corp<6758.T>.

The Chicks' falling out with Sony Music had thrust theminto the forefront of the dissident artists' group.

After their legal battle with Sony erupted last year, theDixie Chicks joined the RAC, pressing for better treatment ofartists by the music industry.

In the Chicks suit, they charged Sony engaged in"systematic thievery" by underpaying $4 million in royaltiesowed the trio for their first two multiplatinum releases fromSony's Monument Records imprint.

The trio's suit counted 30 separate instances in which Sonyallegedly failed to properly account for or pay the group whatthey were owed. They said Sony's contract was structured insuch a way as to virtually enslave its talent, "obligating itsartists to continue to record for Sony no matter how repeatedlyand blatantly Sony breaches its payment obligations."

Sony in turn accused the singers of making a "sham" attemptto escape their recording pact after twice failing torenegotiate their deal for more money.

The two sides announced they had reached a settlementMonday, which reportedly gives the trio a new contract with a$20 million advance as well as requiring them to reimburse Sonyfor about $15 million in marketing costs before they collectroyalties from album sales.

The Chicks' manager Simon Renshaw said that despite the newdeal, the trio is still very supportive of the coalition'smovement.

"I think that what's in the court record in this case is aservice to all artists.. and it's there for everybody to reviewand use," said another person familiar with the suit.