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Calif. lawmaker wants music contract law repealed

A California state senator on Monday launched a legislative assault against the music industry on behalf of recording stars like Courtney Love and Don Henley who have been crusading to free artists from record company control.

California State Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City) Monday introduced the bill to repeal an amendment won by the music industry in 1987 that keeps recording artists tied to personal contracts longer than talent in other industries like film and television.

In announcing the bill at the Future of Music conference in Washington, D.C., Murray said the artist community should take its cue from the powerful Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) trade group for the major labels and learn to lobby Congress well.

“The RIAA is very effective. Rather than scoff at it, I would suggest that artists use it as a model,” he told the gathering of musicians, media executives and lawmakers in Washington, noting that it was the industry’s clout that got the amendment passed in the first place.

Executives from nine recording companies sent a letter to Murray on Monday opposing the proposed repeal of the amendment, maintaining they conduct their business fairly and that artists benefit from the contracts they sign voluntarily.

“The recording industry is making huge and escalating investments in marketing, promotion and talent costs for new artists (in amounts now exceeding $1 billion each year),” said the letter, signed by such industry heavyweights as Sony Music chief Thomas Mottola, Universal Music chief Doug Morris and Warner Music chief Roger Ames.

“But less than 10 percent of the recordings released each year are able to generate a profit. The only way record companies can continue to invest in new talent is if successful artists live up to their agreements,” the letter said.

In the past, officials from the big labels have defended their tactics, labeling the activist artists as spoiled malcontents of a successful industry.

These stars who have formed a group known as the Recording Artists Coalition (RAC) say they are acting out of personal experience as well as on behalf of young artists who are forced to accept impossible terms when signing contracts that allow the labels to sue them for millions of dollars.

“Courtney has been working with other artists and the government to change the inequity in the law which singles out music performers from all other artists,” said Love’s attorney Barry Cappello.

Murray, a former music agent, held hearings into the issue this past fall. “After hearing from both sides, Senator Murray has come down to what is probably the best course for the music industry,” said Cappello.

Furthering the cause, several pop stars, including Elton John, Billy Joel, Sheryl Crow and the Eagles, next month are planning several concerts around Los Angeles before the Grammys to raise money and awareness for their crusade.

Sony Music is a unit of Sony Corp Universal Music is part of Vivendi Universal and Warner Music is part of AOL Time Warner

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