[The Nicks Fix]

Reuters Newswire
Jan 23, 2002

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - A galaxy of pop music stars led by Courtney Love, Carole King and Don Henley descended on California's state capital Wednesday to lobby for new state legislation to free artists from what they say is "indentured servitude" to record companies.

"Beyond the well-known stars who are with us today, are the thousands of new and emerging artists for whom this legislation will be a lifesaver," said John Connolly, president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO (AFTRA).

The legislation, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Kevin Murray, would repeal an amendment won by the music industry in 1987 that keeps recording artists tied to personal contracts longer than talent in other industries like film and television.

Executives from nine recording companies have publicly opposed the proposed repeal of the amendment, maintaining they conduct their business fairly and that artists benefit from the contracts they sign voluntarily.

In the past, officials from the big labels have defended their tactics, labeling the activist artists as spoiled malcontents of a successful industry.

These stars, who have formed a group known as the Recording Artists Coalition (RAC), say they are lobbying the legislature on behalf of young artists who are forced to accept impossible terms when signing contracts that allow the labels to sue them for millions of dollars.

At a Sacramento news conference, they repeatedly referred to their music industry contracts as "indentured servitude" and "slavery."

"The record companies have been deeply involved in the legislative process for a number of years now and we simply want a place at the table," said Henley, the former Eagles frontman who serves as RAC president.


"We have concerns regarding industry practices, concerns regarding the future of our work, our creative works."

Carole King, who was among the stars appearing at the news conference, said she was going to press the legislature to change the law. "I'm going to put a question today to the legislators, which is why not remove the exemption?" she said.

Other stars lobbying lawmakers Wednesday included Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow and Beck.

Dexter Holland, the lead singer of Offspring, said the current laws governing recording artist contracts left them unfairly obligated to provide record companies with material well beyond the seven years required for film and television artists.

"Recording artists sign these contracts in good faith fully intending to honor them. But the record companies know from experience that it is highly unlikely artists will be able to fulfill their requirements due to the demands they place on the artists, including touring, video shoots and other marketing chores."

The stars' effort to change the law follows a tentative ruling from a Los Angeles judge this month which requires record giant Universal Music to pay $4.75 million in back royalties to as many as 300 performers to settle a class-action lawsuit led by torch singer Peggy Lee.

Lee -- who died Monday at the age of 81 -- was the lead plaintiff in a two-year court case that claimed that Universal, a unit of Vivendi Universal, failed to pay her and other artists millions of dollars by underreporting sales figures and overcharging for services.

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