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Artists Sing Out on Piracy

Record labels and artists were out in force Thursday to reiterate their blunt assessment of digital piracy’s effects on their financial well-being at a state government hearing in Sacramento.

“I would like to begin with a simple proposition,” said Recording Industry Assn. of America president Cary Sherman. “The one-two punch of physical and digital piracy is threatening the livelihood of the music industry.”

The hearing, convened by the California State Assembly’s Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism & Internet Media, was the second piracy gripefest in as many weeks for the industry, which is increasingly turning to the government for help in the battle against illegal downloading and copying.

In the U.S. House of Representatives last week, the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet & Intellectual Property met to hear testimony on the issue and hash out opinions on an antipiracy bill sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.).

The state assembly hearing sampled a more diverse array of voices on piracy’s financial impact: a central-Los Angeles record store owner and a CD pressing-plant employee testified alongside veteran R&B singer Mary Wilson of the Supremes, and producers Lamont Dozier and Glen Ballard.

The hearings hit a high note – literally – when Wilson ended her testimony with an impromptu rendition of the Supremes hit “Stop, in the Name of Love” as an admonition to music fans who download songs for free instead of paying artists for them.

Committee chairwoman Rebecca Cohn (D-Saratoga) – one of four state lawmakers to attend the hearing – said she is looking into crafting legislation that will complement the federal antipiracy bills currently up for consideration, but had not yet ironed out the specifics of such a measure.

Berman’s bill, introduced late this summer, would give record companies a legal “safe harbor” to use technology to quash peer-to-peer piracy on the Net. It has drawn broad support from music and film companies, but consumer advocates fear it tilts the field too far toward the media giants.

A series of other bills introduced recently, including congressional measures from Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), seek to balance the industry’s copyright-enforcement efforts with measures to protect consumers’ rights to fair use.

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