California Lawmaker Wants Music Contract Law Repealed

A California state senator on Monday launched a legislative assault against the music industry on behalf of recording stars such as Courtney Love and

A California state senator on Monday launched a legislative assaultagainst the music industry on behalf of recording stars such asCourtney Love and Don Henley who have been crusading to free artistsfrom record company control.

California State Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City) introduced thebill this month to repeal an amendment won by the music industry in1987 that keeps recording artists tied to personal contracts longerthan talent in other industries such as film and television. Inannouncing the bill at the Future of Music conference in Washington,D.C., Murray said the artist community should take its cue from thepowerful Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) trade groupfor the major labels and learn to lobby Congress well.

"The RIAA is very effective. Rather than scoff at it, I wouldsuggest that artists use it as a model," Murray told the gathering ofmusicians, media executives and lawmakers in Washington, noting that itwas the industry's clout that got the amendment passed in the firstplace.

Executives from nine recording companies sent a letter to Murray onMonday opposing the proposed repeal of the amendment, maintaining theyconduct their business fairly and that artists benefit from thecontracts they sign voluntarily. "The recording industry is making hugeand escalating investments in marketing, promotion and talent costs fornew artists (in amounts now exceeding $1 billion each year)," said theletter, signed by such industry heavyweights as Sony Music chief ThomasMottola, Universal Music chief Doug Morris, and Warner Music chiefRoger Ames. "But less than 10 percent of the recordings released eachyear are able to generate a profit. The only way record companies cancontinue to invest in new talent is if successful artists live up totheir agreements," the letter said.

In the past, officials from the big labels have defended theirtactics, labeling the activist artists as spoiled malcontents of asuccessful industry. These stars, who have formed a group known as theRecording Artists Coalition (RAC), say they are acting out of personalexperience as well as on behalf of young artists who are forced toaccept impossible terms when signing contracts that allow the labels tosue them for millions of dollars.

"Courtney has been working with other artists and the government tochange the inequity in the law which singles out music performers fromall other artists," said Love's attorney Barry Cappello. Murray, aformer music agent, held hearings into the issue this past fall. "Afterhearing from both sides, Senator Murray has come down to what isprobably the best course for the music industry," said Cappello.Furthering the cause, several pop stars, including Elton John, BillyJoel, Sheryl Crow, and the Eagles, next month are planning severalconcerts around Los Angeles before the Grammys to raise money andawareness for their crusade.