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FUTURE OF MUSIC: DAY ONE
Conference a Lively Exchange of Viewpoints, Business Cards

 Day One of the Future of Music Coalition Conference in Washington D.C.—a gathering of independent music activists, technology advocates, politicians and others who seek to challenge the status quo of the business—was characterized by talk of legislative action and online cooperation.

By most accounts a lively exchange of viewpoints, the conference's keynote speeches, panels and discussions focused on artists' and consumers' rights, proper compensation for digital distribution and the proper role of government in ensuring a fair marketplace. While politicians, artists and digerati took issue with major-label practices, record company execs had the opportunity to address some of their complaints while outlining the economic realities currently faced by rights holders.

More abundant digital offerings for consumers were promised by two prominent online services, both of which have lately transitioned to the subscription model.

Napster CEO and conference keynoter Konrad Hilbers proclaimed he was close to sealing deals with the majors over the right to offer their music in the netco's subscription service, which is expected to be ready for launch sometime next month.

Meanwhile, Listen.com put out the word that its Rhapsody streaming sub service would be fortified by new licensing deals with EMI and BMG. (For the full story, click here.)

Yet even these upbeat scenarios were shadowed by controversy. Hilbers took the opportunity of the conference to urge the government to enforce a fixed royalty rate for online licensing.

Amid the speechifying and debate there were promises of specific governmental inquiries and actions. Calif. State Senator Kevin Murray's stated intention to seek repeal of subsection (b) of the state's labor code section 2855, commonly known as the "seven-year statute," had been the subject of a letter to Murray signed by the heads of the major-label groups, among others (hitsdailydouble.com, 1/7). At FMC, Murray proclaimed that he was drafting a bill on the matter to be introduced in the Legislature in short order.

Murray also weighed in on the need for terrestrial broadcasters to pay performance royalties on sound recordings and voiced support for the Recording Artists Coalition, which has been stumping for legally mandated changes in recording contracts.

Murray's work on the seven-year statute was applauded by keynote speaker and U.S. Congressman Rick Boucher (D-Va), who in turn announced his own plan to introduce legislation to amend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), among other things. Section 1201 of the DMCA enjoins consumers from circumventing security measures in online media; Boucher hopes to change the language to allow such circumvention in "fair use" cases.

Boucher is also working toward passage of the Music Online Competition Act (MOCA), which he co-authored with Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) and which is intended to compel rights holders to license music to multiple online distributors.

Meanwhile, Howard Coble (R-N.C.) the Chairman of the Internet and Intellectual Property Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, has voiced opposition to MOCA. He announced during FMC—through spokesperson Debra Rose— that he felt no need to alter DMCA, but underscored the committee's eagerness for a reasoned compromise.

The flurry of legislative plans coincides with the anti-payola crusade of another FMC keynote speaker, songwriter and Congressional Rep John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who has promised to probe label and radio practices—including contractual issues such as the seven-year statute. He articulated some of these points in an L.A. Times interview this week (hitsdailydouble.com, 1/7).

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