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Bill May Limit Musician Contracts

January 08, 2002|JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A California state senator introduced legislation Monday that would pave the way for free agency for recording artists, potentially adding fuel to a movement that appeared to be picking up steam in the nation's capital.

Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City) launched a bill to remove an amendment to the state labor code that keeps recording artists tied to contracts longer than other workers. As the bill was officially filed in Sacramento, Murray appeared in Washington to rally support at a music industry conference at Georgetown University attended by hundreds of musicians, lawyers and executives.

"Some will see this as a move to restore fairness," Murray said. "Others will see it as arbitrary and perhaps unfair. The record companies have their arguments.... But we need advocacy for artists. Now is the time for artists to take up arms and fight for their rights."

California law protects most entertainers from being tied to any company for more than seven years. But musicians lost that protection in 1987, when record companies secured an amendment to the state law granting them power to collect damages for undelivered albums. Murray said the amendment is unfair, and his bill has picked up support from the California Federation of Labor.

Before Murray spoke, a federal lawmaker who has been active on online music issues, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), expressed support for the idea of examining the law from a national perspective. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) has indicated that he may hold hearings on record contracts, and music lawyers said Monday that Conyers' staff has made inquiries about how federal legislation limiting contract terms could be written.

But the record industry appeared prepared to mount a vigorous defense of the law.

Top executives from the five major record companies sent Murray a letter Monday saying his bill would upset the "contractual balance that now exists" between artists and record companies, and would jeopardize the entertainment sector of California's economy.

"Nobody wants to have a public feud with artists--artists are the lifeblood of the business. But in this case it's not something people are going to support," said Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, the label's lobbying organization.

Rosen also cast doubt on whether Congress would intervene.

"The implications of the federal government involving themselves in contract law make it unlikely that anything would pass," she said. "I've heard some [lawmakers] want hearings, and that might happen, but I don't anticipate legislation."

Many of the artists who attended the Future of Music Policy Summit, however, said Murray's bill could generate momentum for a broader movement of musicians seeking more detailed accounting practices from record labels, health-care benefits and other reforms.

"If Murray's bill passes, that may be the motivation that a broader segment of the recording artist community needs to really jump into the fray," said Johnny Temple, bassist in the rock band Girls Against Boys, which was dropped by Geffen Records last year.

"If this seven-year limit gets imposed on those contracts, they can't just string artists along."

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