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MCA Urged Workers to Lobby Against Artists Bill

June 05, 2002|CHUCK PHILIPS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The chief financial officer at MCA Records, a division of Vivendi Universal, pressured employees to lobby California lawmakers to oppose legislation that could open the door to free agency for recording acts, documents show.

The move occurred before the launch of a letter-writing campaign this week staged by the California Music Coalition, an offshoot of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, a Washington trade group representing the world's five biggest record companies.

Representatives from the RIAA set up tables this week at the offices of Vivendi Universal, Sony Music, AOL Time Warner Inc., EMI Group and BMG to help employees sign form letters asking lawmakers to reject a bill that would repeal an amendment in the state labor code that, in effect, extends contracts for recording acts longer than for other workers.

MCA is the only record label known to have pressured its employees to comply with the letter-writing campaign.

Vivendi Universal declined to comment. But some Vivendi executives said privately that the letter-writing campaign was voluntary and that employees participated because they wanted to be heard on the issue.

On Friday afternoon, record chiefs at nearly a dozen Universal-owned record labels e-mailed thousands of employees, urging them to participate in the "important" letter-writing campaign.

Within minutes, MCA Records employees received a follow-up e-mail from the label's chief financial officer, Paul Satenstein, telling them to notify his assistant after completing their letters, "as she will need to ensure everyone complies."

The e-mail ended with these words: "Thank you for complying."

On Tuesday, several Universal employees told The Times they were "coerced" into participating in the campaign. One employee said he and others "capitulated only because they were scared for their jobs."

The debate over the artists rights campaign stems from a growing rebellion among music acts, many of whom have complained to lawmakers that music corporations force them to sign unfair contracts that can tie them up for their entire careers. The musicians also have questioned the companies' accounting practices.

Meanwhile, today attorney Johnnie Cochran and the Rev. Al Sharpton are expected to launch an initiative in New York that would focus on the free-agency issue for East Coast recording artists.

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