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Calif. Senator Prepares Measure on Music Contracts

A California state senator plans to draft a bill that would free recording artists from restrictive, multi-year contracts, a system stars have attacked as unfairly stacked in favor of the major music labels.

Under current California law, record companies are granted a special exemption that allows them to sue musicians and singers for albums not produced over the course of seven-year contracts.

Stars including Don Henley, Courtney Love and the Dixie Chicks testified in the state Senate last month that the special status granted to the record labels in California in 1987 was unfair and should be repealed.

State Sen. Kevin Murray, a Democrat who represents the Los Angeles suburb of Culver City and who sponsored that hearing, plans to introduce a bill in January challenging a loophole in the state Labor Code, a spokeswoman for Murray said on Friday.

“He feels there is something off about (recording artists) being the only group to be singled out and feels that something should be done,” said Yolanda Sandoval, a spokeswoman for Murray.

Recording artists, led by Love and Henley, claim young artists are forced to accept impossible terms when signing contracts that allow the music labels to sue them for millions of dollars at the end of their terms.

The lobbying comes against the backdrop of several lawsuits against major labels by stars, including Love, who allege they are victims of unfair contracts and accounting practices of the media conglomerates that control the record labels.

Hilary Rosen, chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which represents the record companies, said on Friday that the music industry strongly opposes the proposed change.

“This is going to be a long, hopefully thoughtful debate,” Rosen said. “I don’t think the case has been proven in the marketplace that a change is needed.”

Officials from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which represents the world’s big record labels like Vivendi Universal’s Universal Music, Sony Music, AOL Time Warner Inc.’s, Warner Music, EMI Group Plc and Bertelsmann AG, in the past have defended their tactics, painting the disgruntled stars as the spoiled malcontents of a successful industry.

Earlier this month, a Los Angeles judge ruled that Love’s lawsuit against Universal Music could go to trial.

The state law is considered important for the industry because many music careers are launched in California and all of the five major labels have major operations here.

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