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Don Henley's RIAA Alternative Gaining Steam

Maybe the Recording Industry Association of America had better watch its back. The Recording Artists Coalition – which counts founder Don Henley, Sheryl Crow, and Alanis Morissette among its members – is making strides toward becoming a formidable opponent.

The RAC, which claims that the RIAA doesn’t always operate in the best interests of artists, has recently hired an executive director, laid out plans for offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and folded another high-profile artists’ rights group under its wing.

In March, Henley said the RAC boasted 57 high-profile members, including Billy Joel, Eric Clapton, and Bruce Springsteen. The group’s new executive director, Noah Stone, had been the head of Artists Against Piracy, which the RAC is absorbing. Members of the AAP span the musical spectrum, ranging from Blink-182 to Christina Aguilera, from the Dixie Chicks to Jill Scott.

While performers have long been upset about what they perceive as unfair recording contracts, Stone said that the Napster case has brought these issues into the public eye for the first time. “Napster sort of popped the lid off the car, and everybody’s looking at the engine,” he said.

Specifically, Stone said, the RAC is seeking federal legislation that would put a seven-year limit on artists’ contracts, as opposed to the current system, which is usually based on a number of albums rather than a length of time. “That would let artists renegotiate their contracts in the prime of their career rather than at the end,” he said, likening the RAC’s goal to the free-agent clauses that exist in professional athletes’ contracts.

“Imagine if Matchbox Twenty could renegotiate their contract right now,” Stone said. “It would create a bidding war that would earn them higher royalties. And that would be good for all artists, because if an independent label could sign a Matchbox Twenty, they’d also gain the clout to sign newer artists.”

Also, the RAC plans to lobby for digital performance rights for performers, not just for publishers and label copyright holders, which is how radio rights have worked for years.

Stone said the bottom line for the RAC is to create a system that is fair for everybody. “The record labels need to start looking at artists as business partners,” he said. “And they don’t do that right now.

“Alanis told me a while back that it doesn’t matter if she makes $5 or $5 million,” Stone said, “because the labels are making $5 million or $500 million.”

An RIAA spokesperson had no comment on the RAC.

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