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ARTISTS’ RIGHTS UPDATE: PART CIRCUS, PART SUBSTANCE
RAC/RIAA Debate Continues, Courtney in Court, Jacko Joins Johnnie & Al Show
Conversations between RAC and RIAA reps are apparently picking up steam again, though insiders report that one highly placed RAC rep has dismissed a recent RIAA proposal as “worthless.” Word is, however, that a compromise is being worked on again and revolves around setting the number of albums an artist will still owe his or her record company after the seven-year contract limit in California has expired.

The idea appears to be that the number of albums owed after seven years will be flexible, depending on the number of albums an artist has delivered over the course of the seven-year term. The number of “owed albums” may be fewer than the number called for in the artist’s contract. For example, both sides reportedly agree that if an artist has delivered three albums in seven years on a six- or seven-album deal, he or she should owe two more, for a total of five albums. The sides are said to differ, however, on the number of albums that should be owed if said artist has delivered four albums in seven years. Not surprisingly, the RIAA’s number (two) is higher than RAC’s (one). No telling at this point if this approach will be fruitful, or even if the concept of “owed albums” assumes that the “damages clause,” part of the 1986 amendment effectively exempting recording artists from the seven-year statute, will remain intact.

Speaking of the damages clause, Sen. Kevin Murray’s SB 1246, which seeks to remove the 1986 amendment entirely and state explicitly that all Californians are protected under the seven-year rule, is set for another hearing next Tuesday (6/18). With RAC expressing confidence the bill will see passage even as RIAA forces encourage opposition via letters expressing concern for the future of California jobs, this s-l-o-w-l-y unfolding drama is still of intense interest to many.

But the artists’ rights action hasn’t been confined to Sacramento lately. In Los Angeles yesterday, judge Fumiko Wasserman delayed the trial of Universal Music Group’s suit against Courtney Love and her countersuit against UMG until at least 6/18. The two sides have met with a court-appointed mediator but express little hope of reaching a settlement. The volatile Love has indicated previously that she wants the case to go to trial.

Insiders reason that the judge’s recent dismissal of Love’s claim that the above-mentioned recording-artist exemption to the seven-year statute is unconstitutional may have deprived RAC of one piece of ammunition in its fight to pass the Murray bill. Had the claim been allowed to stand, it would have allowed the lobbyists to at least point to a current legal challenge to the law. The ruling, however, is not thought to directly harm RAC’s cause.

Elsewhere in the country, things took a turn for the weirder last week as the unlikely duo of Johnnie Cochran Jr. and the Rev. Al Sharpton announced from New York that they will be “investigating” the exploitation of artists by record labels.

Industry wags laughed it up at the notion, saying that if their basic lack of knowledge and credibility in the music business weren’t enough to bring on the scoffing, their choice of  Michael Jackson as their artist comrade-in-arms is. These observers are saying that an artist who has taken hundreds of millions out of Sony, owns half their publishing venture and makes $30 million albums and $10 million videos doesn’t exactly make the greatest posterchild for corporate exploitation. Jackson is, however, the second artist (after the Dixie Chicks, who have reportedly resolved their differences with the label) to accuse Sony of fraudulent royalty accounting practices.

The above exploits, combined with those of Love, prompted one observer to note that the burgeoning artists’ rights movement is beginning to seem like “a bad Jerry Springer episode.” At least one reformer, meanwhile, has expressed hope that all the grandstanding doesn’t interfere with the hard work of hammering out solutions to the many problems at hand.

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