Courtney Love and Don Henley will lead a charge of pop artists at a hearing in the California state legislature on Wednesday to denounce what they claim are corrupt business practices by big recording companies.
The hearing takes place against the backdrop of several bitter lawsuits against major labels by acts like Love and the Dixie Chicks, who allege “unconscionable” contracts and accounting practices by the recording conglomerates.
The hearing at the Select Committee on the Entertainment Industry in Sacramento will focus specifically on California’s so-called “seven-year statute,” which restricts entertainers from being tied to any company for more than seven years.
Due to a controversial amendment in 1987, musicians lost protection under the statute and music labels won the right to sue them for undelivered albums at the end of seven years.
Opponents of the amendment, led by Love and former Eagles vocalist Henley, claim young artists are often forced to accept impossible terms when signing a recording contract, depriving them of bargaining power.
“These contracts are not mutual. It’s a one-way arrangement. Artists should be treated as all the people in the state of California,” said attorney Jay Cooper, who represents Sheryl Crow and several other performers, and who plans to testify at the hearing.
Officials from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which represents big record labels like Vivendi Universal’s Universal Music, Sony Music, AOL Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Music, EMI Group Plc and Bertelsmann AG, say they will also attend the hearing to defend their tactics.
‘MOST VIBRANT MUSIC INDUSTRY IN THE WORLD’
“Record companies try to make a profit and they know that 90 percent of their artists will not succeed. They pay vast amounts on advances, promotional and marketing costs for these artists and rely on the handful of artists who succeed to recover their losses and make a profit,” said Cary Sherman, senior executive vice president and general counsel of RIAA.
“It’s a risk-pooling arrangement and has succeeded in forming the most vibrant music industry in the world,” Sherman said.
Lawyers who represent artists disagree.
“When an artist comes in, they sign anything. The labels modify the contracts by their actions because they don’t want albums as quickly as the contract requires,” said Don Engel, an attorney for the Dixie Chicks.
“Whenever there’s a situation in which one class of citizen is being singled out for treatment, it needs to be looked at,” said Noah Stone, spokesman for the Recording Artists Coalition, a group co-founded by artist rights activist Henley in 2000.
The group currently claims 125 members, including Crow, Tom Petty and Alanis Morissette. Many stars in the group are planning to attend the hearing, Stone said.
The artists have made complained loudly enough to draw the attention of California legislators.
“There is clearly some ambiguity in the law and we will investigate how to clarify the law for both artists and their employers,” said State Sen. Kevin Murray, the committee chairman.
“Virtually every industry in California, with the exception of the record industry, is held to personal-service contracts that cannot legally run longer than seven years,” Murray said.
While the Dixie Chicks’ suit does not involve the seven- year statute, the trio is accusing the Japanese recording giant of cheating them out of more than $4 million through a variety of allegedly fraudulent accounting practices. Such practices are expected to be central to hearings and other lawsuits.
In February, Love sued her label, Universal Music, aiming to get out of her contract and spotlight what she describes as “repressive and unfair working conditions” faced by many recording artists.