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Morissette, Henley Tell Senate To Remember Needs Of Artists

Don’t focus only on major labels’ interests when considering legislation, they say.

Alanis Morissette and Don Henley urged the U.S. Senate to heed the voices of artists – and not just their record labels – during a hearing Tuesday morning on the future of online entertainment.

Senators should take artists’ concerns into account if they decide to write any legislation related to the online future of the recording industry, Morissette and Henley said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The reason that I am here is that although these intermediaries claim to represent the creators, and while there certainly has been some alignment of goals, our interests are not always the same,” Morissette said. “There are an increasing number of ways in which those interests conflict, particularly in the digital age.”

Morissette, sitting next to Henley at a table full of Internet and music industry executives, testified that Napster’s free music has been helpful to many artists, helping them “aggregate an audience” to whom they can sell concert tickets and merchandise.

Morissette’s testimony was short on specifics, but Henley – who founded the artists-rights group Recording Artists Coalition – had a number of direct requests.

“We believe recording artists should always be paid for the exploitation of their sound recordings on the Internet, unless the recording artist makes the decision to provide the recordings free of charge,” Henley said. He asked the committee to consider writing a law that would force labels to pay artists royalties on all online use of music.

Henley, who wore a sober pin-striped suit to the hearing, also urged the labels to license their music to Napster, suggesting that Congress might have to force them to do so.

“While we support the lawsuits [against Napster], the lawsuits should not be used to destroy a viable distribution system,” he said. “Compulsory licenses should be considered, though only as a last resort.”

Not surprisingly, Napster CEO Hank Barry also urged the committee to consider compulsory licenses.

“Licensed music should now be available over the Internet as it is over the radio,” Barry said. “I strongly believe such a change is necessary Ö and that it will be good for artists, listeners and businesses.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he also considered compulsory licenses to be a last resort. He added that he was pleased to hear of Monday’s announcement of MusicNet, a new company co-owned by three of the five major labels that plans to license music for online use.

Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, cited MusicNet and a similar venture, Duet, as proof that labels do not need to be forced to issue licenses. Neither Duet (which will combine the catalogs of Sony and Universal) nor MusicNet (which combines BMG, EMI and AOL Time Warner) have yet to yield any currently available online services.

AOL Time Warner co-CEO Dick Parsons promised in his testimony that MusicNet will begin beta tests as early as this month.

Tuesday’s hearing, dubbed “Online Entertainment and Copyright Law: Coming Soon to a Digital Device Near You,” was meant to gauge the current state of online music and other entertainment and to allow the Judicial Committee to consider whether legislation is needed to help develop the market.

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