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Singing Praises of a Labor Bill

Contracts: Rock stars lobby lawmakers to pass a measure to help free musicians from long-term record deals.


SACRAMENTO — A glittering brigade of rock superstars and top labor officials launched a high-powered lobbying attack Wednesday on a state law they said enables the record companies to shackle them to contracts of "indentured servitude."

Lines of startled schoolchildren and other visitors to the Capitol gaped in delight as such entertainers as Sheryl Crow, Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, Carole King and other artists turned lobbyists crowded corridors in support of a bill that would abolish the law.

Clutching binder paper and pencils, some children, who may have expected their field trip to the statehouse to be just another history lesson, filled the hallways in hope that the stars would shake a pack of trailing television cameras and stop long enough to give them autographs.

Most left disappointed, as the entertainers stuck to their lobbying mission for SB 1246, by Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City), a former talent agent.

The bill would repeal a provision of the state Labor Code that exempts record companies from a seven-year limit imposed on personal service contracts, the only such exemption in California labor laws, proponents of the bill said.

At a news conference to announce the formation of a coalition of labor and recording artists in support of the bill, Murray said the exemption has the effect of extending contracts far longer than seven years and prevents musicians from offering themselves on the open market as free agents.

"No one should be obligated to this condition of indentured servitude," said Art Pulansky, secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. He blamed the "power and wealth" of the recording industry in 1987 for getting the exemption enacted.

At the news conference, several members of the newly organized Recording Artists Coalition said their contracts typically call for production of a certain number of albums. But they said they often cannot produce all of them because they must spend huge blocks of time promoting new releases.

Henley, who has recorded as a member of the Eagles and as a solo artist, and singer-songwriter King, told reporters that as a group, musical artists are unsophisticated when it comes to understanding legal contracts.

"Most artists, let's face it, don't understand the ramifications of a record contract. We are very naive people," Henley said.

King said the recording industry "got this by us because we, as artists, are the type of personalities who are not generally united with other people."

The bill also got the endorsement of John J. Sweeney, president of the national AFL-CIO, along with representatives of unions associated with the entertainment industry, including AFTRA, the Hollywood Entertainment Labor Council, and the professional employees unit of the national AFL-CIO.

Meantime, top executives of the industry, including some of the biggest labels, defended the exemption in a three-page letter. It was signed by presidents, chairmen and executive officers of such producers as Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and EMI Recorded Music.

They argued that recording artists are in the unique position of deciding whether to deliver their albums within seven years and are free to take on other entertainment dates at lucrative fees while they are under contract.

They warned that if record companies lose their ability to sue for recovery of damages from an artist who refuses to deliver, record companies "will be unable to invest in as many new artists in the future."

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