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Key Politicians In Harmony Over Net Music Bill

Key Capitol Hill politicos on Wednesday sent a letter urging colleagues to reject legislation that would force recording labels to offer the same price and terms when cutting licensing deals with Internet ventures.

The measure in question was introduced this summer by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who’s concerned that the major labels will control the flow of songs on the Internet by giving special permission to those online services they back.

But some of Boucher’s colleagues on the House Internet Subcommittee say it’s far too early in the game to regulate the Internet. Those signing the letter opposing Boucher’s bill included Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Robert Wexler (D-Fla.).

Another significant name on the document was Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), past chairman of the influential House Judiciary Committee, which has ultimate jurisdiction over Boucher’s bill.

“If there is one thing we know about the Internet music marketplace, it is how little we know,” the letter said. “With this frame of reference, we feel the most appropriate congressional role at this point is to continue to develop our knowledge and monitor marketplace developments.”

The Recording Industry Assn. of America and the Motion Picture Assn. of America are preparing their own letters to Capitol Hill urging rejection of Boucher’s measure, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah).

Boucher’s office could not be reached for comment late Wednesday. Previously, Boucher has pointed out that he’s not the only one concerned about the major labels locking up the Internet market.

Music and video retail groups supported Boucher’s bill and are planning to press lawmakers to consider it.

“These are issues that need to be addressed by Congress,” said Video Software Dealers Assn. legislative affairs VP Sean Bersell.

The Justice Dept. is conducting a preliminary investigation focusing on whether two online subscription services being backed by the majors pose any anticompetitive problems.

In the coming weeks, two online subscription services supported by the majors are scheduled to bow. AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann and EMI are behind the subscription service MusicNet, while Vivendi Universal and Sony are supporting a similar service called Pressplay.

The House Internet subcommittee was also planning to hold a hearing Thursday on the recent Copyright Office report dealing with music and movie downloading.

That hearing was postponed in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks and has not yet been rescheduled.

Scheduled to testify were Mary Beth Peters, head of the Copyright Office; Cary Sherman of the RIAA; and representatives of the Digital Media Assn. and the National Music Publishers Assn.

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